Combining a witty lyrical framework with a grand sense of musical pomp and circumstance, Kimbra uses her debut album Vows to provoke listeners to be bold and go against the flow. Offering a thoroughly danceable and soulfully constructed vibe across thirteen tracks, listeners will find a great deal here to keep them in motion. Vows has a buoyant and artful seduction about it, combining clever lyrics and a cheery vocal style that imbues the music with its own parallel exuberance.
These aren’t ballads or woeful exclamation– something that might seem fitting to her aesthetic from the outside. Imagine Adele if her albums were inspired by positive memories and optimism instead of a bad break up and this might be in the ball-park of the energy Kimbra hits audiences with here. Her vibe is free from pretension and alive with a sense of vibrant revelry and joy that makes Vows seem as much a journey as it is a celebration. Coincidentally, when one brings to bear the fact that Vows is a major label release, remixed and remastered via Warner Brothers, the line of overproduction is notably toed here as well.
This record comes on the heels of Kimbra’s rise to American musical stardom via her guest appearance on Gotye’s hit single ‘Somebody That I Used To Know.’ Her participation in the song is stylistically incongruous and downright tame when taken in full view of her solo work, however. Her powerful voice, assertive presence and daring sense of adventure delightfully contrasts with her Gotye love interest character. On Vows, Kimbra wears her heart on her sleeve from the very beginning, setting a pace and flow oscillates between tribal influences on tracks like “Posse” to the techno-Nintendo inspired punctuation to the album on “Warrior.”
Her knack for writing catchy tunes is exhibited throughout the record, while also giving listeners a glimpse into her true ‘good-girl’ roots. With the indelibly fun song “Posse,” she simultaneously admonishes cliquey and licentious behavior and projects a more wholesome image of woman above the fray.
I learned to read at this old academy/You’re out to make every man Your fleeting dream
But I’m a one-man woman/I’m all down with monogamy
You cuss and curse/So they think
That you’re rough and tough
But I like Shakespeare/And I find "dammit" heavy enough
Songs like “Cameo Lover” give Vows the feel of a saucy major production stage show, blending alternating tempos and bombastic vocal ranges. These croony funk-imbibed pseudo-love songs avoid heavy angst and elevate a sense of hope– something that appears markedly uncool in pop music.
Though it may slip beneath many a casual listener’s radar, pay attention and take notice of Kimbra’s lack of complaint, cynicism, or bitterness, yet another aspect of this record that enhances how much it can be enjoyed and replayed with ease. This aspect of the album can also be seen as its achilles heel, calling into question the level of production and the record’s seemingly manufactured ultra-pop edge for ease of musical digestion. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but this album can also verge on the “edgy cheerleader” side of the female-musical spectrum in an attempt to please listeners. That being said, Vows is also fortified by distinctive vocals and provocative lyrics that set her apart from most of the modern Top-40 artists and indie-singers alike. It represents a strong debut with room to grow as she finds her musical sea-legs and takes her energy in new directions.
Her voice commands authority and shatters any notions of a shrinking violet behind the microphone. This is a truly indulgent album, which also highlights her deep influence by the music of Bjork in a grand fashion. It’s accessible both in terms of its lyricism, as well as endearing in its relatability. Multifaceted and self-aware, she’s not bucking the trend, she makes her own trend: representing the “anti-victim.” She dusts her shoulders off, sees brighter sides and hope-scapes married to ambitious optimism with a surprisingly wholesome twist. In a digital age where talent this rare can and should spread like wildfire, one hopes it also spreads the obvious passion and jubilation exhibited here on Vows.