Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Album Review: Miguel's Kaleidoscope Dream

Don't jude a book by its cover - no truer words have ever been frequently quoted, especially in literature and music. I absolutely hate the cover of this album, so much so that I put off listening to it when it was first critically lauded. Then, Pitchfork implored their faithful readers to pick it up, furthering my skepticism. It took one of my friends to tweet about how lucky we were to get Frank Ocean's "Thinking 'Bout You" and Miguel's "Adorn" in the same year; boy, was he ever right: this album feels like a gift, insight to Miguel's mind. It was that little bit of pathos that put me over the edge, and I finally checked out Kaleidoscope Dream.

"Adorn" is just as adept as "Thinking 'Bout You" is to open an album, but the twist here is Miguel produced the song, along with getting co-credits on a lot of the other songs, and there are even other songs on here solely produced by the singer himself, "Pussy Is Mine" and "Candles in the Sun". The songs on Kaleidoscope Dream aren't stripped down or simple; they're maximalist, sounding like something Janelle MonĂ¡e would sing over -- actually, that would be a pretty amazing collaboration. I can best describe these songs as "What Prince would make, had he been from the year 2032." Miguel's voice is sharp and pointed, effortlessly crafting melodies from thin air. I couldn't tell you a moment on this album that doesn't feel organic, and it's because of Miguel's understanding of his own voice.

One of my favorite moments on the album comes in the last fifty-five seconds of "Don't Look Back" where an undulating synth line, seemingly from nowhere, backs Miguel crooning, finally ending with the line, "It's the time of the season for loving." I don't think anyone else could possibly utter that line with any severity and pull it off. It seems like everything on this album works, which seems harder and harder to do in a genre that was deemed a joke in the late nineties when New Jack took a turn for the worse. It's great to see 2012 have some of the best R&B albums I've heard since Voodoo - it's hard not to use D'Angelo as a benchmark.

The most adventurous part of Kaleidoscope Dream comes with the eponymous song. You may recognize the sample immediately, as it's the same from Eminem's "My Name Is", arguably the rapper's biggest song. To challenge such an institution of a song, and to be completely successful, is something special. He makes it all his own.

While Frank Ocean challenged everything R&B had previously established about sexuality and love, Miguel expands the genre outward, showing a glimpse of growth within itself. And, although Kaleidoscope Dream isn't vying for a top spot on my personal year end list like Channel Orange is, that certainly doesn't discredit anything accomplished on this record. It's witty, fun, craftily produced, and a much needed release to move R&B out of R. Kelly's closet.

Final Grade: A-

P.S. Check out Miguel's spirited performance of "Adorn" on "Letterman"

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