‘Kaleidoscope Dream’ is dreamy, articulate, mature showing from artist on the rise
Music Review | 4 out of 5 stars
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 12, 2012 07:10
Miguel’s second album, “Kaleidoscope Dream,” avoids the current R&B trends of Euro−pop flavorings and House infusions pushed by artists like Usher and Justin Bieber. Instead, Miguel’s sound is closer to R&B’s earlier masters like Sam Cooke, which is why his new album is so incredibly refreshing.
Miguel isn’t afraid to be quieter and more intimate than most of the current chart−topping artists. His songs have little bombast or unnecessary vocal showiness. Instead, they unfold at their own pace and rhythm, much like D’Angelo’s standout album, “Voodoo” (2000), did. This is not to say that his songs are boring or “easy−listening” music, as they have some contagious basslines and elegantly constructed harmonies.
While Miguel’s voice is often lovely on his tracks, at times it is not distinctive enough to make him sound like the star he is. Despite the overall high quality of his songs, his vocal stylings and tone frequently make him sound too much like John Legend or other similar artists. This similarity, while impressive, makes him more forgettable than one would expect, considering his unbelievable melodies.
The album’s first song and first single, “Adorn,” uses a small number of industrial sounds within a standard soul structure. The entire album sounds like a throwback, yet little attention−grabbing industrial touches like the backing music on the opening track make the album feel simultaneously forward−thinking as well as reminiscent of R&B’s roots.
There is also plenty of variety among the songs on “Kaleidoscope Dream,” which range from slower and more retro−R&B sounding tracks to sultrier jazzy−based ones and some funked−out soul jams. This really is mature, adult R&B; this thoughtfully produced album has mature lyrics that are far removed from the “dranking−in−da−club” tracks that flood radio stations. Miguel’s songs are introspective and personal, and they create an atmosphere that washes over the listener.
The album also avoids cluttering the record with high−profile guest rappers, which other R&B musicians tend to do. In fact, the album has almost no guest artists, which gives “Kaleidoscope Dream” a more singular and unswerving feel.
Salaam Remi, who is known for his neo−soul work with the late Amy Winehouse, handles most of the album’s production. These productions build on Miguel’s fantastic harmonies and morph into something unpredictable as the album continues. For example, by the end of the song “Don’t Look Back,” weird sci−fi noises are audible over the captivating melody. It’s an interesting move and Miguel’s vocal prowess keeps it from overpowering the track.
Miguel is also smart enough to keep all his tracks short. No song even hits the five−minute mark, which makes the tracks more accessible than tracks of other experimental artists.
“Kaleidoscope Dream” also remembers to keep a beating heart underneath its little tricks so that the effects don’t feel frivolous and showy. By doing so, Miguel ensures these special effects remain part of the tapestry he creates with his atmospheric works.
The album’s best song — and Miguel’s best song so far — is the mesmerizing “Do You.” The entire song centers on one rather bland line, “Do you like drugs?” Based on this alone, the track should be stupid, but its hazy atmosphere and love−filled vocals make the song the perfect mix of “quiet storm” and soul. The beautiful and simple melody, and lyrics like, “Do you like drugs?/Well me too, well me too./Do you like hugs?” make it hard not to smile and hum along.
While some of Miguel’s songs have high production value, he is unafraid to strip others down to mostly just his voice. This risk pays off to stunning effect. The song “Candles in the Sun” is one such track that builds from the chorus of, “Is there a God?/Is he watching?/Is she watching?” It comes off as an entrancing and thoughtful tune, especially because of its unfussiness.
“Kaleidoscope Dream” doesn’t have the far−out experimentality of R&B acts like The Weeknd or How to Dress Well, and it remains even further away from the bland club music that people like Chris Brown try to sell as R&B. While Miguel’s songs bring to mind a lot of other artists, the biggest influence that hangs over it all is Prince. The nectarous harmonies and incredible production detail will leave listeners satisfied and hungry for more albums of this caliber.