Soulful vocals make ‘Kiwanuka’ one of the year’s best

Photo courtesy of Polydor Records

This past week, singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka released his third studio album, the self-titled “Kiwanuka.” The soulful crooner transcends time with a voice and sound reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix. Over the course of the 14 track album, Kiwanuka’s incomparable vocals prove he is in a league of his own. Although it is easy to get lost in his hymnal-like sound, Kiwanuka’s music is easily recognizable as indie-folk. “Kiwanuka” is a well-rounded, versatile album, composed of many moving parts. Kiwanuka puts emphasis on creating a sound that feels like home.

Set against a percussion-heavy backdrop, the album’s first track, “You Ain’t the Problem,” is composed of catchy, fast-paced vocals, making it an instant standout. “Rolling” lends its sound to the first track and single, “You Ain’t the Problem,” but is still masterful in its own right. Kiwanuka’s likeness to Hendrix is front and center on “Rolling” and the song evokes nostalgia. The track stays true to its name, imitating a rolling wave with prominent drums alongside gritty vocals.  

Though the song “Hero” is very repetitive on its first listen, it has great depth, blending bluegrass and soul sounds together. The lyrics are elementary but offer great profoundness. The chorus, “Am I a hero? / Am I a hero now? /To die a hero / Is all that we know now” speaks volumes and poses an insightful question to listeners.

The penultimate track, “Solid Ground,” hauntingly echoes and reverberates with each word. Kiwanuka’s vocals are breathtaking and are at their best on this song. His tone is crystal clear and the lyrics are articulated in a mild manner. His passionate vocals exude authenticity. “Solid Ground,” like much of the album, explores introspection and individuality. 

Although Michael Kiwanuka is not a household name, he is on his way to becoming one. This underdog album is hands-down one of the best albums released this year and is bound to make a splash this awards season.