Miguel has always been a lover, not a fighter. On his 2012 breakout, Kaleidoscope Dream, he earned comparisons to Prince, while 2015’s Wildheart showcased his talents for introspective, edgy R&B. But on his fourth studio album, War & Leisure, out Dec. 1, he finds new depths of sensuality, making use of distorted rock influences and a sharp social consciousness.
Los Angeles-raised with black and Latino roots, Miguel—born Miguel Jontel Pimentel—was always skilled at blending sonic and cultural influences, but here he pushes further. “Wolf” explores animalistic desire over a driving downbeat; “I love the taste of your flesh,” he groans. J. Cole collaboration “Come Through and Chill” is a glorified late-night text that oozes swagger, then name-checks Colin Kaepernick. He shines when exploring his mix of falsetto, reverb-heavy guitar riffs and hazy funk-pop with Latin swing, like on Spanish-language “Caramelo Duro,” which is layered with candied come-ons.
He’s also more political than he’s been before. Album closer “Now” is a dark lullaby that morphs into a gunshot-splattered battle cry, making a plea to the “CEO of the free world”: “Should we teach our children hatred? Chase the innocent and shoot them down? … Is that the sound of freedom?” As much as War & Leisure is about desire, it’s also a reflection of this woke moment, a statement about seeking refuge from the world in the comforts of love. In times like these, even the king of bedroom records can transcend pursuits of the flesh.
This appears in the December 11, 2017 issue of TIME.