Miguel continues his loose jaunt down the idiosyncratic path carved out on the sun-soaked, California-loving ‘Wildheart’. Indeed, the arrival of his fourth LP ‘War & Leisure’, in the midst of Winter, is quite possibly intentional, a retroactive visage of a summer-driven record, a carousal of breezy nostalgia — think surf-rock flourishes, Marvin Gaye soul-funk and soft psychedelia.
On ‘War & Leisure’, Miguel offsets political overtures with a rhythmic energy that gives the record a defiant and celebratory feel, never beholden to mawkish politicking. The “island” is a symbol throughout, no more evident than on ‘Pineapple Skies’ and ‘Banana Clip’, a dreamscape and utopia for nocturnal animals. Miguel’s own blend of tropical house is divergent from the sort dominating airwaves, and we’re reminded we can rely on him to reject convention and trends, and add that ineffaceable frenetic touch with snares, synths and bass kicks.
Trying his hand at sounds previously unexplored, Miguel further cements his status as a forerunner of sonic multiplicity. Embracing his Latino heritage (his father is Mexican-American), the Spanglish smuttiness of ‘Caramelo Duro’ is a triumph, similar in chord progression to Calvin Harris’s ‘Feels’, but far superior in its production values and in its Carnival-inducing flavour, the first and probably not the last time Miguel sings in Spanish. Adhering more closely to radio homogeneity, and possibly a bid to increase his own mainstream clout, is the trap-infused ‘Skywalker’. A collaboration with AutoTune auteur Travis Scott, the cut evokes some of the melodic, programmed heat of Kendrick’s ‘Swimming Pool’, yet is devoid of the flair and texture that made that number a breakout hit.
Miguel doesn’t dial down on the sex and leisure vibe he’s honed throughout his career, instead he ventures even further into the celestial terrain of otherworldly pleasures. But now, these pleasures are a balm to the world’s vagaries and Miguel’s own latent anxieties. The impending apocalypse is inevitable and frankly redundant, because to Miguel, the focus is on assuaging his lover’s (and the listener’s) fears with a juiced-up persona. He is the opiate that numbs our existential pain. On ‘Harem’, Miguel incites a cult of ‘70s eroticism, the hippie mantra “love is free” reverberating over feverish drums and distorted, ambient guitars.
The Salaam Remi and J Cole-assisted ‘Come Through and Chill’ is an austere reminder of Miguel’s inclination for strung-out slow jams, shifting between come-hither pining and receiving. The spectral neo-soul production is a welcome breather from the reverbed-out noise that makes up the bulk of the record. J Cole’s standout verse lists some zeitgeist hits, injecting a soft blend of social consciousness, like Kaepernick kneeling and police brutality towards “the ones that got the pigment”. The track forms the crux of ‘War & Leisure’s’ philosophy, to resist by seeking one’s own desires in the face of adversity.
Miguel’s intention with ‘War & Leisure’ is not to laden himself as a beacon for social change, but to create a body of work that offsets the severity of our current climate. The record thrives because of this surface-level wokeness, Miguel continuing to occupy his own lane as a vital, progressive artist.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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