Michael Kiwanuka Credit: Phil Sharp

On his stirring second album, Love & Hate (Interscope), British singer Michael Kiwanuka writes in broad strokes, allowing listeners to adapt themes to their own lives in ways that sting. Given a patient, spacious sound by coproducer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse), the record opens with a string-laden track that builds in intensity for some five somber minutes before Kiwanuka—a Brit born to Ugandan parents—utters his first words, questioning his faith and commitment but pledging to power through. At times it can be hard to tell if he’s singing about a troubled relationship or a world gone mad (I’ve recently been gravitating toward the latter reading), but it doesn’t matter; while the singer has explained that the elegant, simmering funk song “Black Man in a White World” was written as a result of playing a loose version of “black” music for largely white audiences, the race-based implications cut much deeper. Love & Hate pulls away from the folk-soul environments of Kiwanuku’s 2012 debut for a feel less specific yet more retro, with many songs evoking a 60s noir closer to the ambient thrust of Portishead than to Stax Records. He delivers searing, psychedelic guitar solos that summon the spirit of Eddie Hazel, but the essence comes down to his seductive voice, which rarely breaks from its sweet yet wounded conversational tone. Few recent albums have translated a feeling of emotional vulnerability with more beauty.   v