Despite the deep soul that ricochets through any given melody of a Michael Kiwanuka tune, Love & Hate is a breath of fresh air. I am writing this for three reasons: I am a fan, I recently won free tickets to an upcoming show of his, and Pitchfork's whopping 6.8 grading of this album is simply unwarranted. Additionally, though despair is there in notes throughout the album, it certainly isn’t how I’d summate Love & Hate.
Kiwanuka’s second album release opens with an almost ten minute long beautiful musical composition. Instantly, I am immersed. Cold Little Heart is grief, though not fully. “I can live or I can die.” He is realizing it’s choice. Ridding himself of despair over and over again, he sings what feels like a daily reminder that mercies are new. As if to encourage a new way to channel our minds for life and its many challenges.
Black Man in White World was the first video release, and arguably the album’s hit record. Realizing who he is, Kiwanuka knows what his body means in this world. The visuals only help propel the song forward. Video director Hiro Murai does an immaculate job communicating powerfully, the limits and limitlessness of Blackness simultaneously. Particularly our main character, a young black boy who seems set smack in the middle of the twentieth century, dances continuously across the screen. Despite a cop car crashing into a black oncoming car just feet ahead of him, he is dancing. So many subtle complexities. He continues to dance to elevation, only to questionably then be falling from the sky by the end. Though not really too questionable as the song to follow this is titled “Falling.”
As the album's titled song, Love and Hate is a complete anthem. It is a complete melody, a complete affirmation that despite despair, he will not be broken. It is a declaration. The melody that rings, opens, closes, and permeates the song is self healing, naturally. It reminds me of the simplicity of a good reggae composition, the repetition has a power to drown out noise and send you into a meditative state, a beautiful trance of invisibility.
I really believe these songs serve as pinnacles of the album. Each song brings us through different stages of self-realization and shifting expressions of rejoicing. I do not beleive this album is about wallowing in despair, but rather about shedding the layers of despair that keep us bound mentally, physically, emotionally. It is not simplistic, but rather expansive in how it carries its message of healing. There's lots of hope here, but not without a grounding of the difficulties that come with hope. It is a choice to fight for hope.
This album ebbs and flows. It’s not a clean answer to overcoming, but its songs provide answers to many stages of the process. It desires to overcome, to move beyond the realities of who we are, and become who we believe we can be. To trust the creator, to be more aware of what we might be feeling and to stay true to our heart in honesty and love. From the lyrics, to the musical composition, and accompanying visuals, this album seals Kiwanuka as a very deliberate and intentional artist. He is true to his sound and message through and through. Everything is right there on the album, loudly, clearly, sincerely.©
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