She is a Kiwi often claimed as our own, Kimbra Lee Johnson, but in the form of The Golden Echo becomes a conscious culmination of genres, blended up and served in a tall frosted glass.
It was a bold risk to take a path of diversity without trying to alienate fans of her debut Vows, which hinted at soulful, indie pop. The sophomore release appears slightly self-indulgent; it’s quirky, but accessible and several steps removed, but forward, of its predecessor.
It would be naive to judge the album solely on the first single ‘90’s Music’. While it is the most contorted track here, unapologetic in sound and hysterical in expression, Kimbra is simply paying homage to the decade in which she was born.
Despite the big names who contributed in one shape or form on the album; most notably Matt Bellamy (of Muse), Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden) Mark Foster (Foster The People) and Daniel Johns (Silverchair, The Dissociatives), the end result is still distinctly Kimbra.
Rather than sounding like a forced amalgamation of powerhouses creating a few great tracks and pack the rest of the time with filler, the end product is deliberate and yet stretches into a myriad of directions with apparent ease.
Some rhythms and beats are influenced by Prince, Janet Jackson (see ‘Madhouse’), and pretty much anything RnB from the late 80’s to mid-90’s. Others take on more subtle tones; ‘Teen Heat’ is tame, yet sexy, ‘As You Are’ is theatrically demanding and showcases her shrill voice.
Second single ‘Miracle’ is shiny gospel. If the film clip doesn’t feature a mirror-ball I’ll be sorely disappointed. ‘Nobody But You’ is a layered, colourful soul and if only I was in Carolina listening to ‘Carolina’; the rising chorus reeks of a shimmering, golden sun. If somebody could please rap a verse on ‘Goldmine’ that’d be great, I’m not fazed if it’s phoned-in. Though sounding complete, there is still space to move and grow.
Kimbra’s vocal harmonies are second to none, dutifully woven in between silky synths and atop psychedelic bass. The lack of impression of an overbearing collaborator points to the control over not only her creativity but the power with which to direct it. And yet at no point do you feel like she is holding back.
Like fellow countrywoman Lorde’s album Pure Heroine, The Golden Echo may fail to fit into a single genre but will manage to nestle its way into the popular landscape. As an album, it has a noble current where transition is seamless and steers away from sounding too much like each track is holed up within its own thoughts. While some struggle with second-album-blues, Kimbra has just placed a bigger target on herself for whatever lies ahead. Luckily for her, so far everything she’s touched has turned to gold.