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First Listen: Miguel, 'Kaleidoscope Dream'

NPR icon by Frannie Kelley
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Miguel's second full length album, which has been released piece by piece over the summer, sounds like the Los Angeles-born singer took a hard look at R&B, pop, rock, funk and "club-aware electronic soul," gleefully smashed those plates and glued them all together. The album's title works: on Kaleidoscope Dream images and sounds repeat, refract and coalesce. But they change places less like the do-si-do and more like the Charleston.

This is an album about re-ordering the past, directing the present. It's made up of love songs, but they are more specifically songs arguing for love, acting casual, wishing and hoping and then imagining what it would be like to consummate. Early days and misadventures. It's soul-baring, but mirrored and fairly guarded.

The title track samples Labi Siffre's immortal "I Got The," recognizable from Eminem's "My Name Is." The lead vocal runs back and forth over the bass line like it's a game of Red Rover. Miguel creeps up behind the note sometimes, but he usually ends up squarely on top of it. On "Use Me" he relies on an amped-up shaker to push through a case of the nerves. "It's the very first time," he sings. "Can I trust you?" On "Candles in the Wind" he loses the reins a bit, asking after God, quoting Biggie Smalls and indulging in more runs than usual over a sparser beat. More than a third of the songs here are powered by guitar and on most of them the narrator is telling the listener what to do. They are primed for live performance.

Miguel's voice is emerald-colored. Light shines through, but it's not sleeping-bag warm. His falsetto sounds like it was hard to come by, not like he woke up sounding like that. Miguel is not Teddy Pendergrass. He is not Luther Vandross. He's working harder than those guys, but you don't see him sweat. Like Sly Stone, he holds the listener at arm's length. He is closer to Stevie Wonder, Prince and Van Morrison. He is a perfectionist, trying to catch the eye of people looking around for the cheeky R&B of their teenage years, be it Little Richard-level insinuations, or absurd provocations in the style of Akinyele or the fully committed mastery of Tony! Toni! Tone! Kaleidoscope Dream requires a few twists to bring Miguel's vision into focus — and once you've found it, you'll laugh more then you planned to.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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