2019 Reviews: Michael Kiwanuka, Michaela Anne, FKA Twigs

I’ve been chewing through 2019 releases with three more album reviews. Two of these albums could have come straight from the 1970s – the soul of Michael Kiwanuka and the retro country of Michaela Anne. FKA Twigs’ Magdalene has a more modern sheen, but recalls the 1980s art-pop of Kate Bush.

Michael Kiwanuka


Michael Kiwanuka was born in London to Ugandan parents who escaped the Idi Amin regime. He began his career as a session guitarist, then as an indie-folk artist. Now on his third album, Kiwanuka’s morphed into a soul performer with a retro sound that recalls Bill Withers and Otis Redding. It’s a natural fit for Kiwanuka’s warm voice.

Adding to the retro feel, there’s a touch of psychedelia to some of these arrangements, like the swirling riff on ‘Hard to Say Goodbye’. The punchy horn chart of ‘Living in Denial’ sounds like it’s straight from a late 1960s Stax single.


The punchy production from Danger Mouse sounds great, and Kiwanuka’s voice is warm and velvety. The songs aren’t always as memorable as those of the record’s influences – in particular, Kiwanuka’s lyrics often seem perfunctory, with personality-free couplets like “Don’t hesitate/Time heals the pain/You ain’t the problem.”

It’s tough living up to comparisons to legends like Withers and Redding, but Kiwanuka’s voice has too much soulful gravitas to be dismissed as mere pastiche.

Michaela Anne

Desert Dove

Country songwriter Michaela Anne moved from Nashville to California to record her third album, hoping to capture a Southwest-noir atmosphere. Desert Dove is neither alt-country or mainstream country, but instead it’s a throwback – it’s pure 1970s country, sometimes like the gentle vibes of Emmylou Harris and other times like the smooth country-rock of the Eagles.

There are shades of Lindsey Buckingham in the climactic guitars that close ‘I’m Not The Fire’ and ‘Someone New’, while the chorus hook of ‘Child of the Wind’ recalls the Eagles’ ‘Already Gone’. The musical tropes are well worn, but Michaela Anne’s strength is her sincerity; she sounds great on the ultra-stripped down material like ‘Be Easy’ and ‘One Heart’.

Michaela Anne can connect emotionally with her gentle delivery on lines like “who are you to say what’s too much love to take for one heart?” It’s easy to take her side, she’s like an awkward outsider with lines like “I have a lover but in time he’ll go away/How could he love me when I act out this way?”

Desert Dove is heavily indebted to 1970s country and country-rock, but it’s charming enough to have a life of its own.

FKA Twigs


FKA Twigs was born in Gloucestershire to a Jamaican father and English/Spanish mother; she’s complained that her mixed race has caused her to be pigeon-holed as an R&B artist. She released her first EP, EP1, back in 2012, but it’s taken her until 2019 to release her second album.

The theatrical art-pop of Magdalene is surprisingly reminiscent of Kate Bush at times – although comparing a female artist to Bush is the music writer’s equivalent of “it tastes like chicken”. Compared to the trip-hop of FKA Twigs’ debut, LP1, her vocals are more upfront in these minimalist electronic arrangements, and she’s both eccentric and enthralling.

The lead single was the minimalist ‘Cellophane’; its off-kilter feel recalls Radiohead, but it’s one of the least dynamic songs on the record. In comparison, Magdalene works best when FKA Twigs is aiming for dramatic weirdness – ‘Mary Magdalene’ and ‘Fallen Alien’ both showcase her vocal range. ‘Holy Terrain’, with its feature from Common, edges closer to mainstream pop and it’s a good fit. The mantra-like ‘Daybed’ is also effective, with its list of bizarre one-liners; “Fearless are my cacti/Friendly are the fruit flies.”

Magdalene dropped late in 2019, but it’s still featured in many end of year lists. I find it too minimalist to reward repeat listening, but at its best FKA Twigs’ theatrical art-pop is very effective.


Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. I really like Kiwanuka. One of my favourite albums from last year. I get what you’re saying about some of the lyrics, though.
    Of the other two, Michaela Anne appeals to me so I’ll give that a listen.

Leave a Reply

More from Aphoristic Album Reviews

Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.

Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

Review Pages

Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:

Charly Bliss Album Reviews

Siblings Eva and Sam Hendricks grew up in Westport, Connecticut. Eva Hendricks dabbled in musical theatre and sang jingles for commercials. In 2011 Eva Hendricks, vocalist and guitarist, recorded an EP with guitarist Spencer Fox. The duo were joined by Eva’s brother Sam on drums, and eventually bass player Dan […]
Robyn Hitchcock Album Reviews

The son of novelist Raymond Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock has enjoyed an acclaimed career as an eccentric alt-rock and folk artist. He started his career with the new wave band The Soft Boys, best known for their 1980 album Underwater Moonlight. The title of the documentary Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death… […]
Lucy Dacus Album Reviews

From Richmond, Virginia, Lucy Dacus is the daughter of a music teacher. She was raised in a Christian family, and her grappling with faith – a fervent believer in her early teens, she’s now a lapsed Christian – is a central part of her music. Dacus went to film school, […]
tricot Album Reviews

Math-rock band tricot formed in Kyoto in 2010, releasing their debut album in 2013. Tricot spent time as an all-female trio, but drummer Yuusuke Yoshida was added in 2017. Yoshida provides the engine for the twin guitar attack of Ikumi “Ikkyu” Nakajima and Motoko “Motifour” Kida and bassist Hiromi “Hirohiro” […]
New Zealand Miscellany

Fat Freddy’s Drop | Fly My Pretties | Aldous Harding | Kerry Logan | L.A. Mitchell | Supergroove Fat Freddy’s Drop Based On A True Story 2005, 6/10Polynesian dub band Fat Freddy’s Drop hit the mainstream in New Zealand in the early 21st century; their music becoming a favourite for live […]
Sandy Denny Album Reviews

After recording 1969’s landmark folk-rock album Liege & Lief, Fairport Convention splintered. While the band continued, bassist Ashley Hutchings departed to form the more traditional Steeleye Span while vocalist Sandy Denny left to spread her wings as a songwriter. Denny was born in London and trained as a nurse before […]

Blog Posts

I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections:

Sugar File Under Easy Listening
10 Best Songs by Sugar

After Hüsker Dü broke up, singer-guitarist Bob Mould dabbled with a solo career. In the wake of Nirvana’s success, he formed a new power trio with bassist David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis. Needing to come up with a band name for an impending gig, he was inspired by a […]
10 Best Syd Barrett Songs

When people talk about wasted potential in rock and roll, it’s usually premature deaths like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, or Kurt Cobain. Pink Floyd’s original leader Syd Barrett also belongs on the list. Although Barrett lived into his sixties, his musical career was effectively over by his mid-twenties, burned out by […]
Talk Talk Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

Formed in 1981, London’s Talk Talk enjoyed an unusual career trajectory. They started their record career as a passable synth-pop band, often compared to Duran Duran. Early hits like 1984’s ‘Such A Shame’ and ‘It’s My Life’ allowed them access to larger recording budgets. Their music became more experimental and […]
Red House Painters Ocean Beach
Red House Painters Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

The Red House Painters took their name from a Tennessee painting crew named The International League Of Revolutionary House Painters. Leader Mark Kozelek came from Ohio, but formed the band in San Francisco. Kozelek was joined by drummer Anthony Koutsos, bassist Jerry Vessel, and guitarist Gorden Mack – Mack left […]
Prefab Sprout Steve McQueen Two Wheels Good
10 Best Prefab Sprout Songs

English sophisti-pop band Prefab Sprout date back to 1970s art-rock; leader Paddy McAloon was sent a rejection letter by Brian Eno’s record label in 1976. They didn’t release their debut album Swoon until 1984, by which time the lineup had solidified. Paddy McAloon was joined by his brother Martin on […]
Television Adventure
10 Best Television Songs

The band Television emerged from the same CBGB scene that produced Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie, and Patti Smith. The group was started by Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, and drummer Billy Ficca. Verlaine and Ficca were childhood friends, while Hell met Verlaine at high school in Delaware. Hell was replaced […]
%d bloggers like this: