On her second album The Golden Echo, Kimbra stands as a shining example of where pop music can go if you refuse to color inside the lines. And don’t think about giving her the basic Crayola 8-pack. She needs the full 96 color mega-box. And the glitter crayons. And the neon ones. And.. you get the idea. The beautiful artwork by Thom Kerr is foretelling of the kind of things you might experience: duality, imagination, beautiful unpredictable soundscapes, and Kimbra dancing through it all in a dress she might have made from scrap household objects. This is progressive pop. Save for a couple songs, most of these tracks are too adventurous for the radio these days. But if you are willing to jump into the rabbit hole, the experience is worth the chance.
The album doesn’t kick off with a bang like most pop albums. Instead it draws you in with the opening beats of “Teen Heat”, a song that explores teenage lust and curiosity while making it poetic, That in itself is a lost art these days. The music soundscape washes over with rushes of energy that sound and feel like a hazy summer day. Then after an unexplained phonecall recording at the end, which sounds like a child talking about nobody ever calling (maybe herself), we jump into the madness that is “90s Music”. The song itself is not so much styled as the songs or artists that are paid tribute near the chorus. Instead it is a futuristic ride through Kimbra reliving past times with an old boyfriend, where the music was always there as part of the story. Because of the odd phrasing, Mary J. Blige is squished into the line as “Mary Blige”. Matt Bellamy from Muse plays guitar on this one, according to the liner notes. What guitar? Oh, that noise is a guitar? So many audio candy details in this track, and quite an uplifting chorus.
After part two of a childhood recording comes the dazzling “Carolina”. This bright sunny track first seems to be about wanting to visit a beautiful place on a postcard, but really is about the divide between wanting to start over to be someone new and being tied to the life you already know as home. “Goldmine” follows, sounding like a chain gang song at first. This one seems to be about harnessing either spirituality, creativity, or both. So many sounds and details lurks in the shadows on this one, like we are hearing the actual voices in Kimbra’s head.
My favorite standout track follows next. “Miracle” invites fellow sound dreamer Mark Foster (of Foster The People), and revered drummer John “JR” Robinson (of early 80s Michael Jackson and later Daft Punk fame – you know Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”? That was him!) along for the party. This song just sounds like a giant smile. With disco bass by Thundercat. If the radio were to take a chance, this one could really be Kimbra’s pop breakthrough. But I won’t hold my breath. Rounding out the first half is “Rescue Him”, which comes from a place of darker trip-hop. This one is a bit creepy and deals with forgiving a lover over and over again that only knows how to let you down and hurt you. I just wanna shout “No Kimbra! Leave that unappreciative idiot! You can do better!”. Perhaps that’s the point, or perhaps it’s a song of denial.
The second half starts off with actual 90s music. New jack swing! When’s the last time someone tried new jack swing on a track in this decade? With the title “Madhouse” and the repeated phrase “Chaos and disorder”, it should be of no surprise that this sounds like a strange early 90s Prince side project. However the bigger Prince influence is on the next track “Everlovin’ Ya”, which features Bilal doing his best at imitating classic Prince. The song has such strange warbles and keyboard sounds driving it that it’s quite hard to sum up. It’s love song-ish. Definitely futuristic.
“As You Are” floats in next as a gorgeous mournful ballad about losing yourself in trying to force a relationship to be something it wasn’t meant to be. This is one of those places where she really nails a moment lyrically. I’ve been in the moment of this song. The strings on the song add just the right touches and never overshadow Kimbra’s gentle voice. “Love In High Places” comes next, almost stumbling in after with its very loose beat. It has a slow burn but it builds with each section into a soundscape of beauty. It is the counter to the previous song.
Kimbra saves one of the best tracks for towards the end. “Nobody But You”, explores Kimbra’s R&B tastes, like Chaka Khan by way of new Zealand. There’s definitely a taste of “Sweet Thing” in there, with piano by John Legend that works just perfectly. The album ends with the very jazzy but ghostly “Waltz Me To The Grave”, a very poetic and nostalgic look back while considering one’s final moments. And just like the spirit in the lyrics, the last note lingers and fades off into the distance for nearly a minute before the album comes to a close.
The deluxe digital versions contain three additional bonus songs. I can’t really say they don’t fit. I can’t say they break the flow of such a diverse album. In fact I’m quite bothered that the CD doesn’t include them, so there’s no lossless version of these three songs available unless I pay crazy import prices for a UK edition. My only guess is that these didn’t make the cut, but Kimbra decided these should also be heard. “Slum Love” comes from a similar place as “Settle Down” from Vows, before proving that she’s not about to repeat herself. The song seems to be about a relationship in which she does all the work. “Sugar Lies” has a bit of a hip hop bounce via Art of Noise and Hall and Oates, until it becomes a twisted fairy tale theme song. “The Magic Hour” definitely deserves a place on the album, as it is a well crafted song with a jazzy vocal in only a way Kimbra could perform it. Her inner and outer monologue meld together on this one.
I have no delusion that Kimbra is going to jump into the top 10 on the pop charts with this album. That is because I know better than to have faith in a pop scene that rewards similarity and familiarity over originality and imagination. People are afraid to be daring. In doing so they miss out on artists… TRUE artists such as Kimbra who want to create more than just “oooh baby” and “come get some of this”. But for those seeking adventure in pop music, The Golden Echo definitely provides a thrilling ride.
You can get your own copy of The Golden Echo HERE:
Check out these great videos from the album:
“Love In High Places”: