An album that made me question my feelings about music
Words by Dylan Bryant
In the past I’ve always thought of music as something that each listener, composer or artist, can attach a personal meaning to. Perhaps not as a clear symbolisation of a particular experience; but nonetheless; a piece of art that each individual can have their own interpretation of.
Then I sat in my bedroom and listened to Michael Kiwanuka’s magnum opus ‘Love & Hate’ for the first time. From the very first track I experienced emotions that I had never felt before. It’s unique to feel such a strong sense of engagement exclusively towards a piece of music itself. This album doesn’t necessarily have a particular meaning to me, but each time I hear the crackle of my record player as the needle runs along the vinyl disc or I press play on my phone screen; it’s a new and unique experience.
‘Cold Little Heart’ is nothing short of the perfect opener. Emotive, soulful and captivating. “Did you ever notice? I’ve been ashamed all my life.” Sings Kiwanuka as he criticises himself for a lack of self-worth. A theme throughout, Kiwanuka questions his own feelings and confronts his personal insecurities and anxieties. The song presents as a perfect hallmark for ‘Love & Hate’ as a whole. Its cinematic sound creates an atmosphere that sets the scene
for the rest of the album, and he uses the second track ‘Black Man In A White World’ to reflect on his feelings of being one of a few black children growing up in Muswell Hill. The assertive tone and his wistful vocals are representative of his experiences of disobeying the negative connotations and labels that he experienced when growing up. ‘One More Night’ is similarly upbeat and soulful with a rhythm that blends Kiwanuka’s vocal expression with tremendous success.
However, it’s the collection of more desolate tracks that really make ‘Love & Hate’ special to me. ‘Michael Kiwanuka’s aching vocals over such rhythmic and soulful music make for an experience like no other’.
The track, ‘Rule The World’ has a sparse feel that gains momentum with psychedelic guitars and a voice that rasps Kiwanuka’s feelings around the concept of self-doubt and anxiety. A theme that is reminiscent of the lyrics in ‘Father’s child’; “all these doubts been troubling me, there’s so much more that I can be.” ‘Rule The World’ concludes with imploring backing vocals and a triumphant close that is engrossing and boldly eminent.
It seems unjust to single out one track from an album that is so full in its entirety. That being said, the title track ‘Love & Hate’ has all the qualities of this talented artist. I’ve been lucky enough to see Michael Kiwanuka live and each time I hear this song played, I get a sense of euphoria. It’s so powerful and unflinching in its delivery. Based around a single backing vocal that flows throughout the 7-minute duration; it represents perfectly how elegantly these ten songs are composed.
The last song on the album ‘The Final Frame’ survives these qualities with Kiwanuka’s elegant voice and a screaming guitar solo that is rounded off stunningly by a mesmerising piece of piano. The perfect end to an album that I’m extremely passionate about.
Picture credit: Alexander Kellner