MIGUEL with ILL KIDZ and DJ LISSA MONET at the Guvernment (132 Queens Quay East), Tuesday (December 11), 8 pm. $40-$99. PDR, RT, SS, TW. See listing.
In interviews to promote his 2010 debut album, All I Want Is You, Miguel (born Miguel Jontel Pimentel) often described his sound as "eclectric," an awkward but concise term that nods to the Los Angeles-based R&B star's interest in classic rock and funk. All the while, he was being coiffed and marketed as a conventional hip-hop-friendly R&B heartthrob.
Singles like Sure Thing and Quickie established his name among radio listeners, but it wasn't until earlier this year, when he released the seductive slow jam Adorn from free mixtape trilogy Art Dealer Chic, that a wider audience started including him in the new guard of left-field R&B singer/songwriters.
The song also appears on his heady sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA/Sony), which has furthered the 26-year-old's reputation as a radio star with an ear for the unconventional - without the need for a handy catchall phrase.
"[Kaleidoscope Dream] was about sculpting a sound," he says. "Lyrically, I was less interested in being allegorical, descriptive or picturesque. It was more about complementing the sonic delivery and trying to convey a soundtrack to my life."
While it delivers in the baby-making department, it's psychedelic in its emphasis on mood and texture over lyrics. On tracks like Where's The Fun In Forever, Do You... and The Thrill, he lingers over fleeting, visceral emotions while his falsetto drifts over rumbling bass and weaves in and out of layered guitars.
Though Miguel is often quoted as saying he wants to shake up club-obsessed R&B radio, he insists that boundary-pushing is not his goal in the studio.
"I won't say there aren't times when the expectation of how something is coming across may get in the way, but I work really hard to push those thoughts out of my creative process."
However, when it comes to the business side of music - the marketing, the choice of singles - he actively challenges the conventional wisdom. For example, he wants hazy slow-burner The Thrill to be the third single but expects his label to advocate for the more radio-friendly How Many Drinks?
"This is gonna be overgeneralized, so forgive me, but there is a lack of personal perspective [in R&B]," he says. "There are things that interest me, intrigue me, bother me, inspire me. What I don't hear enough of when it comes to R&B is just everything [aside from love]. I think that's why it was important for me to make an album that didn't revolve around romance.
"It's not that I want to make a song that's so different. It's that I want to make a song that sounds like what I want to hear on the radio."