Scratch the Surface, and the Patina Quickly Wears Off

Despite being armed with one of the boldest pop singles of the year, Kimbra's Golden Echo offers few thrills.
kimbra the golden echo

opinion byJEAN-LUC MARSH

Ever since Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” rose to ubiquity in 2012 and left an indelible mark on the zeitgeist of a young decade, his collaborator, Kimbra, has been tied to the success of that song. Indeed, for the uninitiated (read: the Northern Hemisphere), the Kiwi chanteuse and “Somebody That I Used to Know” are inextricable. Her performance on the track is stellar—simultaneously sweet, shamed, and seething—but it was hardly all she had to offer. The public never really looked into an independent Kimbra, whose debut, the criminally overlooked Vows, has aged gracefully, and exhibits some of her more eccentric and exciting tendencies. Among several gems, there was the vocal acrobatics of “Two Way Street,” the pining ballad of “Withdraw,” the riotous intensity of “Come Into My Head,” and of course, “Settle Down,” which turned heads by displaying a wit on par with Regina Spektor’s and dance moves to match.

Yet, for those who were expecting some kind of crossover alt-pop second coming in the vein of Sara Bareilles or KT Tunstall (which I admit, I did), the lead single, “90s Music,” was a shock. Sure, Kimbra had her quirks before. She always seemed a bit more off-kilter than her contemporaries, but who knew she had this in her? “90s Music” sounds as if it has emerged from some kind of cosmic wormhole, sent from a reimagined past, or a nostalgic future; maximalist, postmodern, and altogether thrilling. It defies classification, and the music world’s unwavering need to categorize everything it comes across will surely leave it scrambling for a neologism that fits the bill. While “90s Music” is a bold jump into territory so far ventured only by weirdo UK visionaries SOPHIE and PC Music–downright outrageous for a project backed by a major label–it also finds itself woefully alone on Kimbra’s sophomore release. The sad truth is that the remainder of The Golden Echo is mostly ho-hum. No other track matches “90s Music” in its ambition, or its energy. “Carolina” and “Goldmine,” two other upbeat tracks, come closest, but aside from this triad in the early section of the record, it is apparent that the rest of the album, bloated and protracted as it is, has nothing that can compare.

The Golden Echo falls into a similar trap as Vows, becoming easily divisible into uptempo and downtempo halves, with all the adrenaline frontloaded, and the ballads left for last in a monotonous succession. Whereas Vows (sort-of) got away with it based on the sheer quirk of Kimbra’s character and beginner’s luck, the novelty fades on The Golden Echo. Kimbra’s second album has a distinct dichotomy hovering around the halfway point. After the remarkably average “Miracle,” it is mostly downhill (save for “As You Are,” which sees some success with its distorted vocals and sparse arrangements), with Kimbra dumping seven soporific tracks on the listener. The record could have easily been truncated, with the tepid “Rescue Him” and the enervated duet of “Everlovin Ya,” as first candidates for the chopping block. Instead, the second half of the album is overstuffed with dull material, most distressing, especially when considering the long list of collaborators that Kimbra worked with.

The Golden Echo, imagined as a nostalgic tribute to the music of the past, and dedicated to collecting and condensing those disparate influences into a modern pop album, is a victim of an ironic title. It starts off brilliantly, but by the end of twelve tracks, it tapers off into an incessant and increasingly underwhelming performance. The record sounds like the lowest points of Vows: nothing more than the fading specter of a good idea. Kimbra’s bid to be taken seriously only has the appearance of gold. Scratch the surface, and the patina quickly wears off. C-