I was a fervent fan of New Zealand pop sensation Kimbra when she first appeared on the scene. This was before she provided a verse on Gotye’s 2012 smash hit ‘Somebody I Used To Know.’ I was more attracted by Kimbra’s solo efforts, her off-kilter sensibilities and the way she would play with pop conventions. ‘Settle Down’ in particular was an absolute delight, showing off Kimbra’s impressive vocal range and ability to craft a beautiful – if slightly creepy – tale. But alas, her debut album Vows was a bit of a patchy affair. It was a very worthy neo-soul record before that term even became popular, but never gave a true indication of what the Kiwi could really do. There were a few flourishes, including the aforementioned ‘Settle Down,’ the sultry ‘Something in the Way You Are’ and the power-pop flourish of album highlight ‘Sally I Can See You.’ But for the most part, Vows was an album that really failed to deliver on the initial potential that Kimbra showed.
Her latest LP, The Golden Echo, goes a long way to rectifying that partial oversight. For the most part, Kimbra’s sophomore effort is a well-crafted collection of often boundary-breaking pop music that owes as much to Prince and Michael Jackson as it does to Bjork and Kate Bush. And, to all her credit, Kimbra wears her musical heart on her sleeve on this record – you just have to listen to ’90s Music’ to know how much of an audiophile it is as she references Mary J Blige and TLC over a rose-tinted bubblegum melody. As a fellow 90s child, the track lovingly captures the sugary days of pop when we had a slew of bizarre novelty records and a wave of classic hits (particularly R’n’B hits, which Kimbra is quick to point out herself). But more than anything, ’90s Music’ is the track that defines everything else on the LP: quirkiness, an oddball view on life, a dash of eccentricity and a heaped tablespoon of unadulterated joy.
Perhaps this has a little something to do with Kimbra recently becoming close friends with Janelle Monae, who – in my opinion at least – made last year’s best R’n’B/ pop album in The Electric Lady (sorry Beyonce). Monae’s similar adoration for her form, experimentation within genres and slightly skewed perspective of pop music sounds like it has rubbed off quite a bit on Kimbra. While Kimbra’s music may not be quite as conceptually ambitious or expansive as Monae’s (Janelle, after all, is just over halfway through making a seven-suite epic about the titular Electric Lady in a heady cross between Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Blade Runner), the Kiwi has certainly picked up on some of the sensibilities Monae possesses. This is particularly true in her embracing of Prince, for whom she and Monae share a mutual adoration. ‘Miracle’ and ‘Madhouse’ are the best examples of Kimbra’s embracing of her love for The Purple One. The latter in particular whips out space-funk electric guitars, while ‘Everlovin’ sees her doing a mean impression of her idol.
There are more woozy moments on the album. ‘Carolina’ makes use of some Vangelis-inspired synths and distorted vocals, not overly dissimilar to the technique used by Ramona Lisa. Meanwhile, ‘Goldmine’ stands out for exploring the darker side of R’n’B. Although this has recently been explored a fair bit in recent times thanks to BANKS and, to a certain extent, FKA Twigs, Kimbra doesn’t sound like she’s simply jumping on the bandwagon. Remembering that ’90s Music’ emphasizes her deep connection with R’n’B, it’s not surprising that the Kiwi would venture into this genre. It is more coincidental than anything that this is a time when that particular style is gaining momentum. In any case, Kimbra’s deployment of the genre on ‘Goldmine’ isn’t jarring with the sunnier disposition of the rest of the album. Instead, it serves as proof that Kimbra is as versatile as her Atlantan best friend.
Listening to The Golden Echo fills me with hope that Kimbra will finally live up to her true potential. She seems utterly unafraid to experiment, to break boundaries and try and plumb the depths of pop music for new undiscovered gems. She’s indebted to her musical roots but never sounds dated. Indeed, the whole album is frankly a joy that, while still containing some minor flaws in places, sounds like the LP Kimbra should have made instead of Vows. While her debut will always contain some invaluable gems, The Golden Echo is sure to mark the true start of what could be an illustrious career.