Miguel’s ‘Kaleidoscope Dream’: Album Review

Christina Lee | October 2, 2012 5:45 am
After initially writing songs for Asher Roth, Musiq and Usher, Miguel crafted his own debut, 2010’s All I Want Is You. Yet with his first single (the album’s title track), the Los Angeles-based soul singer didn’t quite announce his own arrival. Miguel mostly sings the succinct “All I Want Is You” hook, sheer longing cutting through his echoing vocal, while featured performer J. Cole raps not one, but two verses. Overall, it felt like a fine introduction to a rap-hook contender — which, to Miguel, wasn’t enough.

Little more than a year later, he returned with a more powerful approach: he released a trilogy of Art Dealer Chic EPs, each offering tantalizing hints of his eclectic new recordings. (Those included early glimpses of songs we now love: “Adorn,” “Arch & Point” and “Candles In The Sun.”) These were followed by Air and Water — two more EPs-turned-previews of his sophomore effort Kaleidoscope Dream (out today, ).

On the surface, the lone common thread seemed to be Miguel’s voice, one that sometimes seems inspired by Usher’s vocal leaps but also sounds eternally at ease. But in full context, Kaleidoscope Dream is Miguel mastering the early versatility he displayed on All I Want Is You, showcasing a woozy-yet-wise mix of pop, funk and soul that rocks ever so gracefully.

In the past, Miguel would offer up glib metaphor after metaphor (“If you be the cash, I’ll be the rubber band”) while in search of the right words. But he’s far more concise on Kaleidoscope Dream, whether he’s asking for the lights on (“Use Me”) or what to do to take you home (“How Many Drinks”).

As it darts around between public and private settings, the album isn’t so much a series of detailed recaps as it is a bunch of flash encounters that leave much to the imagination. (It’s as if he casts himself as the type of man Cosmopolitan often bemoaned, the one who’d rather relish in the chase than settle down.) But Kaleidoscope Dream thrives upon such pursuits, and it’s hard not to feel charmed by Miguel’s carefree responses. “Well, do you like love? Do you like drugs?” he sings, adding three syllables to the end of each question, before he near-hiccups his reply: “Well, me too.”

As shown beautifully in “The Thrill,” Miguel can sing of impatience (“And I / can’t wait / it’s the thrill…”) as if he has all the time in the world. But he can carry heavy burdens too: in “Don’t Look Back,” a murky interpretation of the Zombies“Time Of The Season” is transformed into a bleary illustration of his cheating ways. “In “Where’s the Fun in Forever?” the singer sounds grounded in Alicia Keys‘ presence, no matter how bemused he is of his own realization: ‘Tomorrow’s just a day away / Celebrate.” Elsewhere, “Candles In The Sun” is a weary protest song that offers far more questions than answers: “Is there a God? Is he watching? Is she watching?” As the album’s conclusion, it feels like an open ending.

Fans of Miguel are already familiar with much of Kaleidoscope Dream, given its slow-rolling release over the past year. What’s new, though, is the journey the singer has created with these songs — how he stealthily navigates through these run-ins with anonymous girls, providing what feels like an insider’s look into his identity without ever saying too much. So even as a full-blown record, Kaleidoscope Dream feels like yet another delicious tease.

The Best Song Wasn’t the Single: “Adorn” is terrific, but so is “The Thrill” and even “Arch & Point.”

Best Listened To: While unwinding after a night out.

Full Disclosure: Initially (and as many have), I found it easy to draw comparisons between Miguel and the Weeknd, Frank Ocean and even Drake. After a few listens to Kaleidoscope Dream however, I’m now inclined to believe that Miguel is a smarter songwriter, mainly because of his distinct and deft use of pop hooks.

Idolator Rating: 4.5/5

Christina Lee

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