Spotlight On: Miguel

miguel-matt-carrillo

Throughout his impressive third album Wildheart, Miguel Jontel Pimentel’s ideas are dynamic and ever-present. He offers us two songs about death as Eros in “A Beautiful Exit” and “…Goingtohell.” He muses on growing up biracial, the son of a Mexican-American father and a black mother, as he sings on “What’s Normal Anyway.” He presents sex as a thug’s imperative on “NWA,” and love as “Flesh” and burning lust. He doesn’t lapse into the kind of anonymous lovemaking that typified his earlier work, particularly his retail debut All I Want Is You. Although the cover artwork for Wildheart depicts Miguel as a libertine dream, a naked woman kneeling submissively to him, he reveals himself as a man of flesh and blood.

It’s a necessary growth for an artist who shined brilliantly on 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream, but still seemed like an enigmatic personality, despite his evolution from an LA singer for underground hip-hoppers like Blu & Exile to a rising mainstream star. It’s a common plight for R&B men who operate in an urban environment of masculine cool and customary hardness, and are subsequently penalized for their sensitivity with pernicious rumors about their sexuality. As Miguel discovered, it didn’t matter how many hot and freaky pictorials he shot with his model girlfriend Nazanin Mandi. The same idiotic gossip vultures hovered around him, too.

Perhaps he’s learned that the best way to combat the haters is to make his art more distinct, add more depth, and to hell with the consequences. To be sure, there’s nothing on Wildheart as strong as Kaleidoscope Dream’s “Adorn,” and it remains to be seen if R&B traditionalists will embrace the new album’s “Hollywood Dreams” flashy pop and funk rock as much as the critics have praised it. For the former, there’s “Coffee,” as sumptuous a babymaker call as there has been this year. For the rest of us, there’s Miguel the innovator, pushing forward.

(Rhapsody – June 30, 2015)

Miguel, All I Want Is You (2010)

On his debut album, L.A. singer-songwriter Miguel Jontel subverts urban pop with music you don’t normally hear on an R&B record. “Girls Like You” builds around a keyboard arpeggio reminiscent of the System; “Hard Way” works around a funky drummer beat; and “All I Want Is You” has a Jimmy Smith-like organ hook and verses from rapper J. Cole. With Jontel’s creamy mid-range vocals driving it, All I Want Is You sounds great, but he doesn’t offer that one indelible hit that sticks in your memory. However, his inspired performance may cause you to overlook that.

(Rhapsody – November 29, 2010)

Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream (2012)

Miguel’s second album is drenched in his honeyed, echoing voice. Its airy lightness fuses the synthesized boogie of underground artists like Dam-Funk to the lovelorn sex rooms of R&B. A relentless seducer, he wants us to leave the lights on and “Use Me”; “I can teach you,” he promises seductively. “Adorn” and “Do You…” sound terrific, especially when contrasted with his debut All I Want Is You, which had a brighter, if equally sex-obsessed tone. Although he can’t quite divorce himself from mainstream R&B’s focus on baby-making ballads, Kaleidoscope Dream is still an impressive evolution.

(Rhapsody – September 28, 2012)

Miguel, Wildheart (2015)

“Too proper for the black kids/ Too black for the Mexicans,” sings Miguel on “What’s Normal Anyway.” He’s a little different from the R&B norm, not as introspective as Frank Ocean, yet wilder and looser than Usher and Trey Songz. And on his third album, he craftily escapes the alt R&B ghetto and embraces flashy L.A.-styled funk rock. “A Beautiful Exit” is wrapped in electric guitar, and “Deal” is a nice slice of hooky pop. The peaks here aren’t as high as Kaleidoscope Dream, but it sounds more cohesive, and for fans who want Miguel the sex god, there’s always “Coffee” in the morning.

(Rhapsody – June 26, 2015)

Photo by Matt Carrillo.

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