Kimbra: a retrospective before The Golden Echo
Quick! Name a New Zealand artist whose voice channels Billie Holiday, fashion sensibilities channel Cleopatra, dancing channels a person whose knees bend backwards and whose talent is unparalleled. If Kimbra did not jump to mind, you’re possibly loopy, or have been hiding below human radar (or radio) for the past few years.
Kimbra began songwriting at the age of ten. I personally cannot imagine ten-year-old Kimbra, let alone a baby version of her sexy and soulful jazz stylings. She was even one of those mildly nauseating kids who sang national anthems at stadiums and looked adorable. Nonetheless, somewhere between then and 2010, she picked up the best parts of a myriad of different inspirations — from Bjork to Nina Simone to Prince — and put it all into a stunning debut album, Vows.
Vows gave us glamorous, film noir Kimbra, interweaving retro lyrics (Settle Down) with seductive double bass (Good Intent) and minimalist jazz licks (Plain Gold Ring).
Showcasing her clever and unique production skills on singles like Settle Down and Cameo Lover, Kimbra subtly revealed to us her manyfold skills. This was the kind of album you listened to very, very loud during long, quiet nights. Her voice, thick, deep and astoundingly resonant, was the central focus of this record, a clever move for a young and developing artist. Vows gave us glamorous, film noir Kimbra, interweaving retro lyrics (Settle Down) with seductive double bass (Good Intent) and minimalist jazz licks (Plain Gold Ring). Unsurprisingly, people loved it. As a result, she modestly carried away the Vanda & Young Songwriting Prize, Critics’ Choice Prize at the New Zealand Music Awards, and Best Female Artist and Best Song (Cameo Lover) at the ARIAS. She then followed with a packed-out Australian tour and festival circuit, slowly gaining momentum as the favourite homegrown songstress, throughout 2011.
Then came the frenzy. Surely everybody on this earth has heard Somebody That I Used To Know at least a billion times. The wildly successful collaboration between Kimbra and Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter Gotye took over the world in the second half of 2011, winning first place on Triple J’s Hottest 100, Best Video and Best Song (with Kimbra and Gotye winning Best Female Artist and Best Artist and Producer, respectively) at the ARIAs — and that was only in our corner of the world. The track also won two Grammies, placed first in three charts by Billboard Magazine and has been performed on major US television circuits.
How many copies sold? 13 million.
Making it one of the best-selling digital singles of all time — not bad for a track recorded in Gotye’s parent’s house somewhere in Victoria.
As listeners, we could actively see and hear her creative journey…
The video, created by Aussie artist Natasha Pincus, was also deemed a creative masterpiece and viewed some half a million times, as Gotye and Kimbra passionately sang at and around each other, both naked and painted in the same gradients as the background. The relatable nature of the song and the exquisitely crafted video were a brilliant pairing and, subsequently, skyrocketed Kimbra to international fame and — interestingly enough — the chance to reinterpret her image and musical style.
2012 and 2013 saw her picking up awards at every turn and pushing her performances to unusual creative limits, perhaps furthered by collaborations with the likes of John Legend, members of Queens of the Stone Age and The Beach Boys, and the magnificent Janelle Monae. As listeners, we could actively see and hear her creative journey, particularly regarding this influx of influences, which paved a glorious path to her upcoming album, The Golden Echo.
Kimbra released her first taste of the album in May with the controversial single 90s Music, which features Matt Bellamy (Muse), Mark Foster (Foster The People) and a host of samples. The track demonstrates a totally different sound from the low-key, bluesy tunes of Vows, or the quirk, indie-pop vibes of Somebody That I Used To Know. It’s a new Kimbra, or perhaps more developed, the Kimbra who experiments with electronica and new-agey production values. The single received polarised reviews, with Beat Magazine naming Kimbra a “trap-rock pioneer”, while Bullett Media called the song “hot garbage”. Indisputably, it’s the beginning of a fascinating expedition by a profoundly talented musician.
We eagerly await the release of The Golden Echo on August 19th, and all that Kimbra has to offer.