Review Summary: The sounds of people you used to know become the sounds of somebody you ought to know.
The period between The Golden Echo
and Primal Heart
was certainly a tumultuous time to be a Kimbra, or anybody aware of their surroundings for that matter. The world of music was radically shaped anew with great losses, and great achievements, on no uncertain terms demonstrating that while influence may live forever, the people themselves do not. While the spiritual blow Kimbra suffered due to some of her most significant influences passing is apparent on here, it is also clear that she isn't about to mope or rest on her laurels. Rather, Primal Heart
is a soundtrack to Kimbra's new artistic awakening, a statement that yearns to make the best out of her influences and establish the woman herself as a force to be reckoned with.
was an idiosyncratic record, everything about Primal Heart
- from the darker, more driving instrumentals to the determined, aspiring lyrics and down to its amalgam album cover - invokes the theme of Kimbra wanting to take all of her quirky sounds and make them into one unique characteristic. While the lyrics mirror the troubled world that developed prior to the release of the album, there is a distinct double entendre in songs like the feathery ballad "Version of Me", implying Kimbra's rediscovery of herself as an artist. Lyrics like "If there's a better version of me/Would you stay for the person I'll be？" making sense in a love song, but also beckoning the listener to stick along for the bigger ride, as it has only just begun.
The range of styles is about as impressive as the range of vocals Primal Heart
employs, going seamlessly from anthemic indie pop of "The Good War" to somber quiet storm for "Everybody Knows", and the from quirky sonic melodies in "Human" to sparse, distorted instrumentation for the closer "Real Life". Even though Kimbra's distinct taste from her previous albums is present, by virtue of being permeated by an obscurely dark edge that gives the songs their character, even the peppiest track "Lightyears" would have felt like an outlier on any of her previous work. On here Kimbra acts almost like a vessel for the wide scope of producers and songwriters she teamed up with, even delving into hip-hop on the most outlandish track "Top of the World", letting her distinct stamp of light, bouncy R&B vocals act as the anchor for the style.
An admirably self-conscious record, while discreetly dabbling in topics like politics, Primal Heart
makes no pretensions about trying to make sense of the world and never beats you over the head with opinions. Kimbra's intent is only to mirror what she's observing, the dreamy shades of "Like They Do on the TV" only vaguely referencing politics but serving more as a self-referential acknowledgment of the need for abandoning nostalgia. The lyrics drip heavily with Kimbra's determination to express new visions, presenting ideas of being stronger than previous generations. Juxtaposing the themes, the distinctly minimalist nuances highlight all of the murky aspects of the production and gives them clear definition, making the album have all the defined shades of pop while retaining all the moodiness of indie. The inaugural Kimbra-helmed production breathes dark pop, cementing the theme of her steadfast willingness to take her past and contemporary influences - from gospel music to synth pop - and use them to make herself become an influence.
Definitely an album that promises a lot and tries its hardest to earn the listener's trust, Primal Heart
is an album of careful yet ambitious craft, with every track it is confident in its statement and never devolves into pleading. Anchoring itself into Kimbra's distinct vocals and R&B sensibilities, it dares to have fun, to be sad, and to be imposing, the themes of ambition making it an eclectic but also a very comprehensible album. While the minimalism may not appeal to ones looking for sprawling pop production, the record is certainly an entertaining one for the casual listener, a fresh one for the critical ear and a fascinating one for the Kimbra fan. If there were any suspicions of Kimbra's originality, Primal Heart
sheds any signs of aping, becoming the point in time where Kimbra's music forms from the sounds of people you used to know to the sounds of somebody you ought to know.