Album Review

by Kimbra


Review Date
19th September 2011
Reviewed by
Justin Paul

In the past year, Kimbra has been involved in two perfect pop moments. First, I watched - mesmerised - the video to ‘Settle Down’ on Juice TV, immediately Googled her and discovered that Kimbra Johnson was not from London, Stockholm or New York but … Hamilton. Cue the shame-faced Kiwi whose first thought was that something this good could only originate overseas … The second occurred when I saw her duet, ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, with Australian magpie, Gotye. Both songs have star quality: you stop what you are doing, listen and then scramble to hear them again … immediately.

With Vows, Kimbra attempts to break into an ever-widening circle of eccentric pop pixies: Janelle Monae, Tune-Yards, St. Vincent, Lykke Li, our own Bachelorette, Florence and the Machine, Ane Brun, Bat for Lashes, and the Queen herself, Björk. All of the above have either released or are due to release an album this year: competition is fierce in Pixieland. A cynic might line Vows up and sound the roll-call: love won, love lost, layered melodies, handclaps, strings, the restlessly gesticulating voice. They are all present: doe-eyed and sitting up straight at their desks. But the voice, the unruly one in the back row, won’t pay attention; she drifts off into swirling daydreams.

Let’s be clear. Kimbra has a fantastic voice, a liquid voice that assumes the shape of every song. During the album, she drops the power and pace of her delivery as she shifts from smoky cabaret to lollipop to soul diva and Goth spook. ‘Settle Down’ opens the album and reminds you how perfect it is. ‘Two Way Street’ is a more traditionally beautiful future single while ‘Good Intent’ is more reminiscent of ‘Settle Down’ and bears the grubby fingerprints of Gotye with its plunky percussion and thrumming bass. ‘Wandering Limbs’ is a late highlight: this wonderful duet with Sam Lawrence again displays Kimbra’s ability to dovetail and embrace another voice. ‘The Build Up’ is Björkesque, but the dark jazz of the hidden track further underlines the fact that Kimbra could take her music in any direction she wishes.

Vows is an excellent debut, but Kimbra’s influences have worn little holes in her sleeve, and there are too many lulls to call this album an unqualified success. On ‘Cameo Lover’ and ‘Old Flame’, especially, Kimbra threatens to dissolve into a sugary girl-group of one; these tracks emphasise that she is at her best when at her most idiosyncratic, when she strays from the formula. But there’s plenty for both the pop fan and those who prefer the off-kilter. It will remind the cynic how good pop music can be, and in a strange twist, it might introduce the conservative listener to the world of her weird sisters. As a 21 year-old who has written, arranged and produced her debut, Warner Bros. has recognised Kimbra’s talent and snapped her up. We can only hope that this industrial giant will give her the space to develop her own style and the time to extend the promise of Vows.


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