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90’s Music, the first single from Kimbra‘s sophomore record, The Golden Echo, is an oddball, schizoid ode to ’90s culture, nostalgia and youthful exuberance. It was met mostly with confusion and some distaste upon release, but further listening revealed a flourishing, innovative track with cutting edge production and a suitably mighty chorus. A pop song, then.
Similarly, The Golden Echo is a modern soul pop album which manages to stay true to its template while simultaneously turning it inside out. Every time you feel you’ve found your feet, you’re hit with a tempo change, or a vocal distortion, maybe some warped samples, or musical interstitials which sometimes border on non sequitur. It can be unsettling but stick with it — you’ll be glad that you did.
Take album opener Teen Heat. It begins quietly, with a gentle beat and a careful isolated vocal, before detouring sharply into a chorus bursting with layered vocals, organs and staccato percussion. It’s a perfect introduction to an album which captures Kimbra’s kookiness in a way that her debut, Vows, perhaps never could.
Kookiness is pretty entertaining, too, and there’s rarely a dull moment on The Golden Echo. Carolina kicks off as a stomper which again morphs into a sparkling chorus, while second single Miracle is a positive, neo soul triumph. The latter’s heavy Michael Jackson vibes (likely bolstered by the presence of Jackson’s long-time drummer John ‘JR’ Robinson) could have dated it considerably, but it retains its modern edge by way of Kimbra’s subtle vocal manipulations, savvy production, and pot noodles of youthful energy.
Listen: Kimbra – Miracle
Moving past left-of-centre innovation, Madhouse‘s ’80s funk is a subtle tip of the hat to Prince and another not-so-subtle nod to MJ, while piano-driven ballad As You Are is a masterclass in vocal prowess. Love In High Places, a shimmering slow jam, is the most Vows-like moment on the album. Final track Waltz Me To The Grave feels like the climax it should be, the sum total of everything Kimbra’s taken on since Vows. It’s a cinematic journey with live drums and guitars, mind-bending vocal alteration and woozy keys.
Early reports of the album mostly centered on the massive array of guests on the album, from Matt Bellamy and Mark Foster, to Suicidal Tendencies and Flying Lotus bassist Thundercat. On record, though, their fingerprints are barely noticeable. The most identifiable guest is Bilal, who duets on one of the weaker moments of the record, As You Are.
It’s rare for a pop record to feel so much like a complete work. If there was any kind of label pressure for Kimbra to artificially capitalise on her sudden spike in popularity it certainly doesn’t show. From the cover art, to its theatrical interstitials, to overarching motifs of reflection, nature and spirituality, this is an album proper.
The Golden Echo is confident but still a little nervous, sleek but sometimes raw, bursting with energy but still focused and driven. This album is Kimbra — at least, the only Kimbra we’ll ever get to know. We’re very glad to have met her.
Watch: Kimbra – 90s Music
‘The Golden Echo’ is released in Australia this Friday, 15th August.