Review Summary: Kimbra strikes art-pop gold on her second album.
As it bounces off a surface, an echo distorts a sound in order to astonish the listener. Even though this phenomenon can be scientifically explained, there's a dash of magic in an echo, a sense of wonder when you hear something eerily familiar yet quite uncanny. Kimbra Johnson ties this concept in with the music on her second album. The 24-year-old New Zealand native, whose jazz-pop debut Vows
was already defined by mature songwriting, channels the numerous influences of hers with admirable shrewdness, delivering a set of finely condensed evocations of iconic sounds from the immense pop-music jukebox.
The Golden Echo
revolves around stimulating genre mash-ups distinguished by a dreamy, fairy tale aura and a hint of futurism loitering beneath the surfaces. It encompasses a dazzling array of track modes from the hyperactive pop extravaganza of '90s Music' to the lushly orchestrated piano balladry of 'As You Are.' However, the album's sense of cinematic grandeur links its wildly eclectic tracks together, while the sparkling production wows the listener and smooths over the rough edges. It all bears more than a passing resemblance to Janelle Monáe's daring genre work-outs, but Kimbra imbues these tracks with her unique artistic vision and positive attitude.
Sheer joy at creating music permeates through the album. “Gotta find that light shining in the hard times,” she states on her scintillating spin on fame, the aptly titled 'Madhouse.' Her affection for Prince and Micheal Jackson glimmers through this superb space funk jam, but is also palpable on the sleek 'Miracle' that gets the glittery disco ball rolling. As it happens numerous times during the record, Kimbra advances from a simple melodic line to a sophisticated passage that later morphs into an explosive chorus. In the process she develops a newfound aptitude for high notes, which only adds to her impressively wide vocal range. Another of the record's many strengths lies in ingenious vocal layering. Take 'Carolina' which glistens with delirious multiple vocal lines built atop oriental soundscapes, or 'Goldmine' that takes stone-cold African beats and embellish them with Erykah Badu-echoing soulful harmonies.
In creating The Golden Echo
, Kimbra was assisted by a slew of renowned collaborators who left their stamp on the end product. Producer Rich Costey lends the record its booming, deeply layered sound, enhancing the choruses with extra oomph. Thundercat provides sturdy bass lines that add a psychedelic touch, whereas the great Van Dyke Parks is responsible for lavish string arrangements. With such tremendous talent involved, it could be easy for the album to be a hodgepodge of overly obvious influences. Actually it’s anything but as it feels like Kimbra's project from the ground up. Not only does her complete dedication to the music she crafts attest to that, but also distinctly unpretentious lyrics. The opener 'Teen Heat' is as nostalgic as it is sensual. 'Love In High Places' reveals the artist's respect for her fans. “I see the love in all the faces,” she tenderly concludes the song's poignant refrain. Meanwhile, 'Waltz Me To Grave' gracefully reflects on passing, ending the album on a high note.
Reportedly cut down from 50 to 12 best tracks, the album succeeds mightily. There's pure pop gold to be found here, but also envelope-pushing alchemy that turns these songs into unforgettable aural expressions of joy. It takes ages for some artists to reach their full potential. Yet Kimbra has achieved precisely that with only her second outing. The Golden Echo
never ceases to amaze, taking the listener on a fascinating journey through a variety of music styles. It's a shape-shifting marvel of a record from beginning to end.