Miguel - Art Dealer Chic

When the Weeknd and Frank Ocean were getting famous and reaping tons of critical love last year, a small but vocal cabal of R&B-friendly critics carped that the indie rock writers of the world, people who historically haven’t cared much about R&B, were getting sucked in by showy art-school affectations, and that there were plenty of people already working within the major-label system who were doing great work to far less acclaim. Pretty much all these writers mentioned Miguel, an L.A.-born singer and songwriter who scored a few minor hits in 2010, as an example of the sort of artist who the critical zeitgeist was overlooking. And while I don’t think the existence of Miguel does anything to diminish the great things that Ocean and the Weeknd are doing, it is pretty true that he was slipping through the indie-blog cracks while releasing utterly luminous tracks like “All I Want Is You.” But Miguel learned. And over the first few months of this year, he pretty much made an Ocean/Weeknd album, except he did it in tiny Green Mile-style installments — three EPs, each three songs long, to a total of just under half an hour. And it appears to be working. Here I am writing about it on an indie blog.

Now, the Art Dealer Chic EPs don’t do anything as blatant as sampling Beach House or namechecking Coachella, but they do find Miguel — maybe cynically, maybe not — surfing the same sort of gloops of chiffon synth that are currently cool with the cool set. The title is no accident: Art Dealer Chic is Miguel hearing a sound in the air, and pushing himself to explore it. But it works because his voice — an agile and feather-light tenor — feels built for these sorts of tracks. Consider “That I Do (FTRMX),” on which he pushes that multilayered, multitracked voice all over a glacial synth-slap, making the track work to support his vocal rather than vice versa. Or “…ALL,” which sounds like glossy Euro-club music being muffled with a pillow, just like Drake’s “Take Care” does.

“Adorn,” the Vol. 1 opener, is probably the brightest highlight here. One letter distant from Prince’s “Adore,” it’s the same kind of ultra-languid bedroom ballad that the master did so often — a static keyboard groove that grounds Miguel’s flights of hornball falsetto. “Gravity,” meanwhile, is a love song delivered over an almost Madlib-style broken-beat lope. “Ooh Ahh” has the most luxuriously laid-back version of martial guitar-stomp you’re ever likely to hear. And even if the whole enterprise smacks of career-repositioning, none of it sounds forced or out-of-character; it’s simply a born pop showman realizing that he can be even more effective if he gets a bit more diffuse. The one song that doesn’t really work is “Broads,” a rudimentary beatbox jam about being pissed off at women. And though the sentiment rankles, it mostly doesn’t fit just because it’s so gimmicky — Miguel leaves the verses silent so that people can rap over it if they want to. And Miguel doesn’t need people rapping over his shit; the other eight songs here offer enough sonic world-building that something like that would only trip up the delicate ebb and flow.

Download the three volumes of Art Dealer Chic here, here, and here.

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Comments (6)
  1. @Tom, not to be pedantic, but I think there’s a typo and it’s “Prince’s ‘Adore’. –

    “All I want is You” was a favorite single of mine from 2010, and that vocal cabal probably has a point. If there’s one areas of music the indie blogosphere neglects (willfully or not) it’s R&B. I’ve honestly spoken to people who can give me the names of every single “My Bloody Valentine” song in album order, yet when pressed, couldn’t name a single Curtis Mayfield song. Whether or not that’s justified is another discussion, but it does lead to the inevitable “if you like Frank Ocean, then you SHOULD like XYZ”

    So much music out there, which is why it’s cool you’re giving Miguel some love.

  2. “a small but vocal cabal of R&B-friendly critics carped that the indie rock writers of the world, people who historically haven’t cared much about R&B, were getting sucked in by showy art-school affectations, and that there were plenty of people already working within the major-label system who were doing great work to far less acclaim.”

    You finally get it. I was pretty much angry all of 2010 and 2011 because of this very reason. I still find The Weeknd and Frank Ocean paralyzingly dull.

  3. Miguel is wonderful, “All” would have to be the outstanding track for me, it sounds as if it could have been from a film from the 80′s, yet is so now! Saying that Arch n point is a close second, those who are new to him I would recommend you get his previous offerings as he is exciting, diverse and the voice is just mint. I want him to come to the UK so badly, I would love top see him live.

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