New Music 12/2019 – Michael Kiwanuka, Alela Diane

Gorgeous introspective music for the soul from a new favourite and the old one.

Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

My first acquaintance with Michael Kiwanuka’s music happened thanks to the Big Little Lies TV miniseries which used the abridged version of his song Cold Little Heart in the opening credits. Here it’s the first track of the album and my what an opener, a stunning, sprawling 10-minute soul opus with Kiwanuka’s yearning vocals kicking in after a lengthy overture of cinematic strings and female chorus. It’s been a while since I’ve heard something as majestic and spine-tingling.

The rest of the album never quite reaches the same heights, but it’s still consistently excellent through and through. Though it’s mostly a mournful slow-tempo affair full of songs about loneliness, longing, doubt and isolation, the plush production (courtesy of Brian Burton a.k.a. Danger Mouse) and retro soul vibes give it a grand and triumphant feel. Definitely a talent to watch.

Alela Diane – Cusp

I’ve been a fan of this Oregon-based singer-songwriter and her dreamy soulful voice for a while, so it was nice to catch up with her most recent release, which has a more expansive sound than her earlier folky releases. I haven’t followed her output as closely in the last few years, and hearing her voice is like catching up with a friend you haven’t seen for a while. It has a wonderful rich and golden quality that sets her apart from whispy-voiced female singers I hear on the radio all the time (not that there’s anything wrong with whispy, but it does feel samey after a while).

Cusp is an album inspired by the birth of Diane’s daughter, so it’s all about the motherhood, a topic that’s rarely covered in music, explored here over the backdrop of wistful piano and occasionally graced with acoustic guitar, violins and percussion. Most songs seem born out of personal experience, but the best track, the eerie Émigré, is an empathetic look at the refugee crisis and the mothers and children stranded at sea.

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