I’d stumbled on the video to Michael Kiwanuka’s “You Ain’t the Problem” last year, and while I like that song a lot, I wasn’t enthused enough to dig any deeper.
My mistake was assuming that this was music you could full appreciate from a couple of singles. While checking out the whole spatial audio business, I saw that the album KIWANUKA was given the Dolby Atmos treatment, and I listened again. This really demands that you sit back and give the whole album a listen, because it’s an experience. Songs flow into each other, call forward and back to each other, pick up bits of melody; it feels like an epic, swelling concept album, with its amazing string arrangements throughout.
It’s undeniably a kind of homage to early 1970s soul, but it doesn’t feel like just a throwback or a pastiche, but a contemporary album building on that music. It actually makes me wish I listened to more soul, so that I had a better frame of reference than just What’s Goin’ On? and the Grand Theft Auto soundtracks.
“Hero” is another powerful song from the album, with a powerful video, but to me it makes it feel a little bit “smaller” than it actually is. As if it were little more than a callback to earlier music, instead of part of a new album that should itself be influencing musicians 50 years from now.
One song where the video does help, in my opinion, is “Home Again” from his 2011 debut album of the same name. (Which is a good bit lighter than KIWANUKA, and also pretty fantastic). It’s kind of a visual indicator of what the music is doing: taking a fairly straightforward and repetitive base and layering these fantastic arrangements on top of it to make something epic. Don’t make the same mistake I did, and assume that everything great about Kiwanuka’s music can be contained in a few singles.