Sunday, 10 August 2014

Album Review - The Golden Echo

by Kimbra (out August 15, 2014)

How do you avoid the sophomore slump? For Kimbra it's been a case of pushing her genre-bending sounds into unexplored territory, while bringing in a dream team of collaborators to take the 24 year old New Zealander from where she was when we heard her debut, Vows to where she is now. Her second album, The Golden Echo, is without question the best pop album released in 2014 even though (and especially because) it doesn't exist within the confines of what we've come to expect 'pop' music will be. Of course there's larger than life hooks that keep you coming back for more, an epic singalong or two and the ever present themes of love and love lost, but it's the sounds of The Golden Echo that steal the show. The blending of hip-hop, jazz, rock and contemporary electronic beats and the instrumentation have been carefully considered. What you'll find to be the most effective instrument throughout is Kimbra's voice, which packs even more of an emotional punch this time around. Who thought that was possible?

From the first listen of lead single, '90's Music' we knew The Golden Echo was going to take some fairly huge leaps away from Vows. With retro-cool verses and an exploding chorus that dared you to try not dancing to it, '90s Music' left everyone scrambling to classify, label and cage it up with similar tracks and genres. That wasn't going to happen. That didn't happen. It's funny to think a song that invites you to look back through the musical treasure chest that was the 90s is going to be considered a piece of music that defines 2014 for so many people. '90s Music' is a world removed from the latest single, 'Miracle', one of the few album cuts you wouldn't feel was out of place on Kimbra's 2011 debut. It makes the most immediate impact. You might even find yourself humming that insanely catchy chorus melody to yourself at work while people look at you with a look that just screams, "I can't believe you don't shut up." You can look all you want, 'Imma keep on humming. This is music that's full of pure joy, bringing 60s trendsetters like The Jackson 5 to mind. Funk vibes are practically shooting out of Kimbra's mouth and into your core. If you were to link 'Miracle' to '90s Music', the best thing to say is that both will make you want to wave those hands in the air like you just don't care.     

The Golden Echo is led by 'Teen Heat', an ode to ladies cashing in their V cards. The focus is placed firmly on Kimbra's vocal performance, an introduction of sorts. Relatively light electronic beats accompany the verses before the chorus takes a turn for the dramatic with staccato vocals, pounding drums and oh-so-modern synths. Lyrically, it's a genuine, honest and mature look at a subject that could suffer from the melodrama that's expected to come with it. 'Carolina' feels somewhat like a 'Cameo Lover' throwback. Not in a way that makes you feel like Kimbra's been there and done that. It's more in the energy of the track, the incredibly warm feeling the song provides and the irresistible beat that starts pounding down in the chorus. "But in my heart I know it's time to come back (I feel it, I feel it), 'Cause you're the home I never find off the beaten track (I feel it)." A blast of trombone here, some shaking tambourine there and the dreamiest of multi-layered vocals. You'll have a hard time moving on from this one. 

Our first chilled out moment comes at the halfway mark and 'Rescue Him'. It leans harder in the electronic direction; distorted vocals and sounds that fly in and out, earning many a repeated listen to capture them all. Kimbra's recent time spent with Janelle Monae could be the source of the Future Soul sounds that have worked their way into 'Madhouse'. There's definitely a lot more owing to the 80s here than anything else on The Golden Echo, but it's still fresh and far too funky for its own good. This might have a little something to do with Kimbra's collaborator on the song, Thundercat. 'As You Are' felt like the song I was really waiting to hear, even though I might not have known it going in. It's one of those performances from Kimbra that stops time for almost five and a half minutes. A ballad in which the success rests on a repeated piano line and a vocal performance that emphasises the blues in R'n'B. Ask me at the end of the year what my favourite track off The Golden Echo is. I don't see me saying anything other than 'As You Are'. 

'Love In High Places' is smooth enough to have a little bit of Simpsons-ish Homer drool suddenly appear in your mouth. There is no higher compliment, right? Right. The guitar solo will take you to your new happy place. With a title like 'Waltz Me To The Grave', you wouldn't be the only one thinking that the final song on The Golden Echo was going to take you to anywhere but a happy place. A subject like death can do that. We've gone from the innocent days of youth on 'Teen Heat' to the acceptance of life's one inevitability on 'Waltz Me To The Grave'. An appropriate beginning and end. And what an ending Kimbra's given us. It's the longest track on the album, clocking in at seven minutes and thirty seconds, but the time passes far too quickly. A bit like life itself. Ok, I'll stop with the life and death chat. But you try to not talk about it when you're listening to this song, alright? We should acknowledge before I wrap this up that 'Waltz Me To The Grave' is far from a downer, which couldn't have been easy. Kudos to you, Kimbra."Don't look back, we're heading south. I've loved this world with all I have, now I'm ready to go..." 

How do you avoid the sophomore slump? You release an album like The Golden Echo. You push forward with an uncompromising vision of your work. You build on what your fans have come to expect of you and then you invite them to take a journey on which you find yourself realising your full potential. And that's what Kimbra lives up to on The Golden Echo; her potential. With Vows, an album that's still one of the best debuts around, we knew it was only a taste of the amazing career that Kimbra Johnson would have. On her second album, Kimbra steps out with all the confidence in the world, exceeding all the expectations placed upon her in the process. Vows was the statement that made us take notice. The Golden Echo is all the reason in the world for us to keep our well-placed faith in Kimbra as strong as it's ever been. When I said it's the best pop album of the year, I really meant it's the best album of the year. What else has to be said? 

Matt Bond gives The Golden Echo five Kanye West heads out of five...


  1. Kimbra noticed your review! You've got yourself a really in-depth writing style!


Love it or hate it? Agree or disagree? Let me know what you think!