Album Review: Kimbra, “Vows” (2011)

In 2011, I fell in love with Gotye’s wildly inescapable hit single, “Somebody That I Used To Know”.  I loved the catchiness of the song, the honesty in the lyrics, and I was impressed by the female vocalist in the second verse.  Luckily for me, New Zealander, Kimbra was right on the heels of releasing her debut album, Vows, and I snapped it up as soon as it was available.

Vows is a musically diverse album; Kimbra manages to draw from and experiment with an eclectic mix of sounds and genres, but it works extremely well together. All of this is highlighted by her impressive vocals, well-written and unique lyrics, catchy songs and smooth production.

The disc begins with the upbeat, slightly-jazzy number, Settle Down.  Kimbra sounds a bit tongue-in-cheek during the first lines of the song (“I wanna settle down/Won’t you settle down with me?/Settle down”), but the lyrical content fades to the background as handclaps, cheerful shouts and other busy orchestration is thrown in during the bridge.  The chorus is poppy and fun, and the track is one that you’ll have a hard time not wanting to get up and dance to.  The 80’s roller rink-sound of Cameo Lover works surprisingly well, with its heavily syncopated dance beat.  Again, the best part of the song lies in the breezy chorus (“Cause everyday’s like talking in your sleep/Love is like a silhouette in dreams/Open up your heart! Open up your heart/Open up your heart and let me pull you out”), and Kimbra sounds like she’s having the time of her life as she sings this bouncy, fun song.

Downtempo track, Two-Way Street, has less production and more emphasis on Kimbra’s sultry vocals; her seductive tone floats throughout the track and completely envelops the listener.  Kimbra and her songwriting partner, Francois Tetaz (whom also serves as the album’s co-producer), do a great job of writing similarly amorous lyrics (“And I think I’m ready/To let you get under my skin/I can’t make you fall for me/Love is a two way street”).

Old Flame
actually oozes sexiness; the combination of the yearning lyrics (“Old flame, you’re still the one that holds me/Can’t you feel it burning?/Can’t you feel it burning still?/Old flame, I fell for your inferno/Where did all the love go?/Can’t you feel the wind blow you closer to me?”), Kimbra’s sexy vocals, and the heavy drum loop that plays throughout makes this ballad my favourite song on the album.  A male vocalist named Sam Lawrence duets with Kimbra on mid-tempo ballad, Wandering Limbs, another favourite of mine.  Lawrence’s deep, silky tones provide the perfect compliment for Kimbra’s husky vocals, and best part of the song is honestly just listening to the way their voices blend together.

Anais photography Auckland concert Kimbra (cropped)

While most of the album could easily be classified as indie-pop music, Kimbra gets in touch with her soul/jazz/R&B side on a few tracks. Good Intent is a sassy dance song with plenty of brass and a heavy jazz influence.  The soulful a capella opening to Plain Gold Ring leads way to an equally impressive sound, calling to mind some of the tracks on Feist’s third album (the melody and backing vocals really remind me of “Sealion”, in particular, which is actually an adaptation of a Nina Simone song).  The music from Call Me sounds exactly like something from a Mary J. Blige album, but Kimbra handles the R&B sound quite well, which I was actually surprised about on first listen. Meanwhile, Withdraw sounds remarkably like a Corinne Bailey Rae ballad, and I’m again impressed with the ease in which Kimbra is able to genre hop.

The only song I don’t personally care for is Limbo, but I suppose the frenzied sound and bouncy instrumentation could appeal to some.  The melody is a bit too all over the place for me, and though Kimbra sounds lovely as ever, the song is usually a skip for me.

The album comes to a close with The Build Up, a remarkably sparse song.  The experimental sound is unlike anything else on the album, and again, Kimbra effortlessly manages to pull off the change in musical direction.  After about six minutes in, a “hidden track” titled Somebody Please is revealed, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a Fiona Apple song.  The spooky melody and wry lyrics (“This song is drifting away/Birds at your eyes melt your face like sea spray/A plagiaristic tendency is paving the way”) seem like something from Apple’s catalogue, but Kimbra’s influence comes back into play as a jazz line of horns and trumpets make their way into the track.  It’s actually a shame that this song is just a short, hidden track- it’s actually one of the best pieces on the entire album.

I usually find albums with so many changes in genre to be off-putting, but Kimbra smoothly navigates all the different sounds with ease.  Vows is a charmingly diverse album with a wonderful array of songs.  Even though there’s plenty of comparisons to draw with Kimbra’s music, I still find her to be an extremely unique and exciting artist, and I’m interested to see where she’ll go next with her career.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track List*
1. Settle Down 
2. Cameo Lover
3. Two-Way Street
4. Old Flame
5. Good Intent
6. Plain Gold Ring
7. Call Me
8. Limbo
9. Wandering Limbs
10. Withdraw
11. The Build Up

*I own the international/Australian version of this album.  The US version contains a few other tracks which I have not heard.


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