Miguel proves to be a potent voice in R&B

Singer favors psychedelia, shuns sexism

October 18, 2012

A much-buzzed up-and-comer in R&B for half a decade, singer, songwriter and producer Miguel Pimentel made his name in the background, writing for other artists such as Asher Roth and Usher, and failing to wow—aside from the hit single “Sure Thing”—when Jive Records finally put him in the spotlight and allowed him to drop his own debut album, All I Want Is You (2010). But with the new Kaleidoscope Dream, he proves himself a potent and very welcome voice expanding the boundaries of the genre in a year that has seen some exquisite examples of that, including the recent releases from Frank Ocean, the Weeknd and (to a degree) Passion Pit.

As the title indicates, the San Pedro, California-born artist of Mexican and African-American descent draws more heavily on elements of great psychedelic rock and pop to color his soul and R&B than anyone since Around the World in a Day-era Prince, even going so far as to fold a taste of the Zombies’ 1968 hit “Time of the Season” into his own “Don’t Look Back.” But this is less gimmickry than an appreciation of the devotion to a wildly diverse sonic palette and the goal of achieving synesthesia (or seeing sound as color) that drove all of the best psychedelic music, whether he’s in ultra-minimalist mode quietly cooing over an acoustic guitar or riding high on lush layers of synthesized keyboards.

Unlike so many of the R&B lotharios who have dominated the genre in the age of R. Kelly (with whom he shares a record label), Miguel is a happily married man at the ripe old age of 25, seemingly devoted and monogamous. Yet this is hardly to say that he is any less obsessed with sex than anyone from Marvin Gaye to the aforementioned Pied Piper. Rather, he’s man enough to admit his own insecurities and question whether he’s worthy of love—or lustful indulgence. Don’t let the titles of songs such as “P---y Is Mine” and “How Many Drinks?” (as in “would it take to get you to sleep with me”) fool you or scare you off. The singer isn’t bragging but either wishing for what he doubts he’ll ever achieve or hoping he has what it takes to do so.

If at times Miguel makes his debt to Gaye and Sexual Healing a little too obvious, well, that’s sort of like saying someone writes too much like Shakespeare or paints too much like da Vinci. Finally breaking from the weight of expectations as well as genre constrictions, Kaleidoscope Dream gives us an artist with a unique vision, boundless potential and a weird haircut every bit as notable as that distaff visionary working similar turf, Janelle Monae. And wouldn’t those two be a concert double bill to die for?

Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA Records)

Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.

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