Kimbra - The Golden Echo

by Lizzie Hatfield

I can’t say I was particularly looking forward to reviewing The Golden Echo. After meeting Kimbra’s debut with high hopes, knowing her as ‘the other voice on that Gotye song’, I was left irritated after hearing a distinctly average, and sometimes annoying, album. Oddly, what made the experience even worse was the fact that I absolutely loved one song on this record and I felt truly cheated that Kimbra couldn’t recreate the magic elsewhere. Thus I approached her second LP with trepidation, expecting another bout of disappointment.

This is why I was slightly relieved upon hearing the first track of The Golden Echo. While Teen Heat opens with some slightly questionable crooning that some may deem out of tune, I actually think Kimbra just about gets away with it. The verses aren’t too inoffensive; in fact her vocals are quite pleasant and a lot less irritating than they tended to be on her first record. I must say I quite liked this song. While it has a very erratic structure, I think that this is quite brave for an opening track and Kimbra pulls it off. This may sound odd, but this is one of those songs where I would completely understand if someone else hated it, yet I honestly do think it was alright. I was pleasantly surprised, and suddenly excited for what I was about to hear.

Yet this sudden rush of excitement was abruptly halted thanks to the second track, 90s Music, a song I had already been violently exposed to via Kimbra’s Soundcloud after a strong warning from a friend. Obviously this meant I had to go and listen to it straight away. I must say I understand the warning. This song is pants. Just skip it. Kimbra’s falsetto teamed with the loud, annoying backing track and obnoxious drum machine (did your drum machine break, Kimbra?) is not a good combination. This is a bad, bad song.

Unfortunately, this overly obnoxious backing seems to continue seamlessly into the next track, Carolina, alongside Kimbra’s irritatingly high vocals. I don’t know why she’s all of a sudden decided that it’s a good idea to strain her voice so as to reach such a high pitch, but it’s not working for me. The thing that’s most annoying about this song is that by the time it gets into the second chorus I can imagine a better version of this song that would actually be really good. The production is just all wrong. Kimbra has taken a potentially catchy chorus and made it all a bit too busy. It’s like she’s trying to cram in too much.

I feel like Kimbra was going for a Justin Timberlake vibe on fourth track, Goldmine. I can imagine this song fitting right in on a shabby version of Future Sex/Love Sounds; though while the track successfully conveys its inspirations, it doesn’t quite live up to them. I doubt I’ll be pressing repeat on this one.

Miracle is a breath of Michael Jackson-scented air in the midst of this, thus far, uninspiring record. The opening beat is deliciously funky and sounds like it fell straight out of a 70s disco. Nothing revolutionary or particularly mind-blowing, but it’s definitely good fun and the perfect track for party season. Kimbra continues this funky disco genre on later track, Nobody But You (the album’s penultimate track). I really wish she had stuck with this vibe for the entire record, as I feel it really suits her voice, has an incredibly fun, pop vibe, and also brings something refreshing to 2014 that no other artist is currently offering. Let’s be honest, we don’t really expect much of pop music these days except for a catchy chorus; something we can dance to, sing to, live out our lives to while it plays in the background. These songs fill that role perfectly.

By contrast, Rescue Him is a bit boring. It tries to be seductive and slow and impressive with all its different harmonies that are very reminiscent of 90s soul, but it all comes together to sound like background noise and I have to admit that this song washed right over me. Madhouse was different though; I was snapped back awake as I wondered to myself, “Am I listening to Kimbra or is Janet Jackson having another pop at a music career?” Yet no, it was Kimbra, as what appears to be her signature move (completely overproducing songs) happened once again. A real shame as the outro of this song was great; being far more stripped down than the rest of the song it demonstrated that, for Kimbra, less is definitely more.

At this point the record really started to drag. Flipping back to my iTunes I felt exasperated as I realised I still had to endure five more tracks. Five more tracks of complete oversaturation and irritatingly simple vocals. Kimbra seems to have found all those special demo effects on her noughties Yamaha keyboard and they seem to have excited her a great deal because she really made use of them in Everlovin’ Ya (which features an appearance from American singer-songwriter, Bilal – though if I was him I wouldn’t write home about collaborating on this track). It’s almost hard to even make out a melody amongst all the weird sound effects. Just stop, Kimbra, just stop.

Followed on with more boring (As You Are and Love In High Places) I was starting to get really frustrated with Kimbra. The most irritating thing about this whole record is that you can tell that she tried so damn hard to create it. This isn’t just one of those albums that was banged out because the record label wanted another release, rather it’s made with real passion. And I think that’s where it actually falls down. The whole thing is so horrifically try-hard yet it still ends up being painfully average. Don’t get me wrong, this album isn’t awful or offensive (90s Music being an exception: this song sucks) – it’s just mediocre. Nothing to rave about. Nothing to be remembered. Nothing to listen to repeatedly.

“Waltz me to the grave,” I thought to myself as final track, Waltz Me To Grave played - all seven minutes and thirty seconds of it. If you want to hear self-indulgent wailing paired with a boring beat and a lack of structured melody then this is your song! I found it for you! Enjoy.

To be honest, it’s downright frustrating to hear that Kimbra cut this record down to twelve tracks after a whopping seventy songs originally made the long list. It makes me think (or desperately hope?) that Kimbra is just awful at picking her best songs from her worst songs, and went for a right shoddy bunch in a fit of delusion. I make this rather odd admission because I feel like Kimbra has such high potential. Previous tracks (usually collaborations I might add), such as Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know and her collaboration with Mark Foster on Warrior (my must-listen track of last Spring) showcase her stunning voice and her incredible aptitude for creating a stupidly catchy pop track. I’m hoping that secretly, somewhere in that pile of seventy scrapped songs, she has those gems that I know she is capable of. Or maybe she is just a bit crap and is riding along on the success and talent of those she collaborated with on previous efforts. Who knows anymore? The Golden Echo has certainly made me lose yet another glimmer of hope.