Miguel Wildheart

Miguel Wildheart
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We're gonna die young," Miguel intones on opening track "A Beautiful Exit." This nihilistic statement largely informs Wildheart, the L.A. native's third studio effort. 2012's Kaleidoscope Dream was a fruitful affair, serving to establish the charismatic singer-songwriter's brand and also to prime listeners for his style of R&B — a fearlessly rock-oriented, post-Prince soul that leverages the merest dash of hip-hop, compared to the urban swag sound so dominated by today's R&B/soul landscape.
 
Wildheart is a love letter to his native Los Angeles, confidently exploring the city's contrasts — Hollywood glitz by way of Inglewood grime — across its 13 tracks. It's a study of contrasts, guided both by subconscious patterns and conscious decisions, according to Miguel himself, on which sunny rock numbers of "Leaves" and "Feel the Sun" (featuring Lenny Kravitz) vibe nicely alongside hip-hop funk swag ("N.W.A." featuring Kurupt), falsetto soul ("Flesh"), reckless raunch ("The Valley") and dream-pop ("Coffee"). It's an intrepid effort that gives a middle finger to today's "urban" R&B and rides a lane that mines elements of Prince rock, George Clinton/Parliament funk and Frank Ocean baroque pop to stand on its own, commercial considerations to the wind.

Most of all, Wildheart's sultry atmospherics arrived fully realized, riding high on an informed sense of racial self-identity (see: "What's Normal Anyway") and self-defined rockstar status ("Hollywood Dreams"). Those looking for the more mainstream-minded fare like 2010's "All I Want Is You" or even the commercial readiness of 2012's "Adorn," might have trouble — there isn't a clearly designated main single on this effort.
 
Instead, Miguel has embraced his outsider rank in this musical world. Wildheart has its mushy spot (see the superfluous "Destinado a Morir"), but on the whole, it stands as one of the year's standout efforts. (Sony)