Friday, December 19, 2014

In Revue: 'Wild' (Miguel)

While it seems ostentatious that kaleidoscopic crooner Miguel would surprise release a new EP of progressively druggy R&B less than a week after D’Angelo damn near broke the music web with his masterful sneak attack Black Messiah, it makes sense in the right frame.

Miguel has a penchant for psych-soul/funk/R&B "ballads" that transmute at least three times before his voice floats away from them. If D'Angelo didn't outright invent the style on his 2000 record Voodoo, he helped popularize it. A song like "Playa Playa" can shift from narcotized tribal chanting to muted horns and not bat an eye. Without D'Angelo's work on that sophomore LP, we arguably don't get: the Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Solange or Miguel. Miguel's decision then has nothing to do with brazenness; it’s a tip of the cap to a sonic forefather.

Even if this new untitled EP (Wild to make it easier) was positioned as a contender to D'Angelo's hazy throne it would still rightly be viewed as a success. Miguel really rose to prominence with the Art Dealer Chic EPs in 2012 and the format suits him incredibly well. Each plea for a late night rendezvous is more desperate; every line of pillow talk tenderer because you know there's a finite amount of time. The Sun will be coming up soon and then it'll all be over.

But that's one facet of Miguel's inimitable style. He can do braggadocio with the best of his R&B peers and Wild's opening track "nwa" allows him to fully indulge. "She just wanna ride with an NWA," he hums over closely-mic'd drums, G-Funk synth wobbles and dust settling guitars. It's the sort of the line that's infinitely cooler because of how calm Miguel sounds delivering it. He's not pretending, he's a legit "NWA," and if you don't believe him you can ask legendary Philadelphia everyman Kurupt. The Dogg Pound member goes the Miguel route, barely rising above a gruff whisper, but he doesn't have the same effortlessness. He's the dude memorizing pickup lines while Miguel's breaking the ice with something he just thought up.

And if closer "coffee" is any indication, those lines clearly work. What starts as chat about "street-art and high-fashion," accompanied by blankets of static and murmuring bass, soon "devolves" into tongue kissing. Everything follows a natural path until Miguel and unnamed lover end with "coffee in the morning." "Coffee" has one of the cleverer hooks I've heard in 2014, if only because it finds a new way to portray a night of passion. It documents the kind of psychic connection that can form between two people who started off looking for the physical.

Miguel's true genius then is taking genre tropes and spinning them into audio gold. Like "Candles in the Sun" before it, "hollywooddreams" should sink under the weight of its own idealistic hokum, but it doesn't because of Miguel's commitment to the material. He's earnestly hoping for a "big break," trying to find a dream lost under surging guitars and twinkly synthesizers. There's no doubt he'll spot that break. With the artistic vision Miguel has, he could find anything.

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