‘War & Leisure’ Finds Miguel Balancing Sex With Apocalyptic Anxiety

The growth of Miguel as an artist should not be understated. While he’s been around since the mid to late 2000’s, crafting contemporary R&B albums and touring with Usher, it wasn’t until 2012’s “Kaleidoscope Dream” that the world saw him for who he actually is as an artist; an entrancing, soulful, genre-bender with a voice both pronounced and understated. The music he’s put forth in recent years has managed to incorporate funk, art-pop and even bits of rock into something that can only be described as truly Miguel. “War & Leisure” is his latest project, an album that seems to settle into his truly eclectic style.

Sonically, there’s not much else that compares to his sound, particularly on the new LP. Miguel has described this one as his “most upbeat” project yet, and it certainly lives up to the claim – by R&B standards that is. The opening “Criminal,” featuring a solid verse from Rick Ross, picks up right where 2015’s “Wildheart” left off. In a tune that could have very well been produced by Tame Impala, Miguel keeps the psychedelic rock vibes going with live drums, fuzzy bass and echoed guitar riffs. This, while he equates the dangers of love with that of criminality. “Banana Clip” too compares love and violence together in a fusion lead by intergalactic R&B. “Banana clip on my love for you/Let it ring like (graa),” he croons, “It’s like I’m trigger happy.” Throughout the album there’s always this sense of originality by way of the cosmos. Even the bluesy “Wolf” leans heavy on the psychedelic. Here again, the content falls into the realm of deadly love as if the full moon has risen and he can’t keep his desires at bay: “I gotta feed my appetite/ See you can run, but you can’t hide/Scream for more, alright/Every breath, every breath cuts just like a knife.” The flirtations continue on the bouncy, Spanglish cut with Kali Uchis, “Caramelo Duro,” while the sensual J. Cole featured “Come Through and Chill”… well, the title pretty much says it all.

Like a lot of artists in 2017, the inclination to discuss the changing cultural and political landscape that surrounds them is overwhelming. Even Miguel, an artist who’s not known for his overt political views, can’t help but throw out some mentions. While the upbeat, vibrant “Told You So” may feel bright and cheerful with its MGMT-style guitar progressions and electronic loops, the content begs to differ. Or at least according to the music video which shows a missile shooting into the sky, explosions on the ground and riots. “City of Angels” too, which ambiguously looks at the demise of Los Angeles via aerial bombardment, looks at what he sees as our world’s impending demise. The closing “Now,” though, is perhaps the most acute and one that points most directly at the man in the oval office. “CEO of the free world now/Should we teach our kids hatred?” he asks before going on to say, “’Cause it’s plain to see a man’s integrity/By the way he treats those he does not need.” The song also makes mentions of the natural disasters in Houston and Puerto Rico, as well as race relations and the so-called dreamers.

Miguel paints himself as a true oneironaut – or a dream explorer. “War & Leisure” is his journey through a conscious mind, one where sex and love fight for attention between the distracting outside elements of violence and politics. It’s totally realistic for him to keep both sides of his brain functioning simultaneously, and on this particular album, they fit together oddly well.

War & Leisure is out Dec. 1 on Apple Music.