Bold vocals and fearless genre exploration load up Vows with punchy, ambitious charm
Kimbra Johnson is a rare jack-of-all-genres, and nearly their master, too. Her debut album Vows exudes brassy confidence, and as a showcase of her musical flexibility it has earned its place in the spotlight. Sampling multiple sounds ranging from ‘90s R&B to retro and jazz, Vows is an experiment gone right, where every genre of the last 40 years is packed into a multi-coloured pixie stick and devoured in one go.
Unheard of in North America until recently, Kimbra has already become a household name in New Zealand and Australia, where Vows has gone platinum since its initial release in 2011. The 22-year-old attained overseas stardom after she was featured in Gotye’s hit, “Somebody That I Used to Know”.
Along with Foster the People’s lead singer Marc Foster and Montreal-born DJ A-Trak, Kimbra lends her vocal prowess to the recent single “Warrior”. The music video — posted on the Converse Youtube channel and added to the album’s U.S. release — features the trio sporting the famous shoe in a to-the-death wrestling match.
“Settle Down” is one of Vows’ sassiest and most powerful tracks. Kimbra shows a full range of jazzy vocals in a dance-and-shout breakout as she sings about her cookie-cutter plans to become a prim and proper ‘50s housewife. Her dominant decision-making (“We’ll call her Nebraska, Nebraska Jones / she’ll have your nose, just so you know”) and insistence on possessing Mr. Right is disturbing and unnerving. If you require a dominatrix crash course, this is the song for you.
Another highlight is the bonus track “Call Me”, a sexy Broadway-sized jazz-gospel hybrid that will have you dancing and yowling into your umbrella-turned-microphone (rather embarrassingly) down drab elevators and scuzzy alleyways.
The mellow track on Vows is “The Build Up”, which features tinkling, breathy Bjork-esque vocals. The song is beautiful in its frailty, imagery, and stream of consciousness. This is one of the few moments Kimbra retracts her claws to reveal a soft heart that’s otherwise disguised by the album’s boldness.
A mishmash of genres boosts the mass appeal of Vows, and the new lineup of tracks on the U.S. version makes it more cohesive than its original release in New Zealand and Australia, which had a couple of forgettable, aimless tracks that dulled the recording. Vows, revisited, is a fresh, tasteful, and intelligent production that not only keeps you on your toes but promises, with the right tweaking, a stellar sophomore album.