‘Vow’ flashes potential, lacks experience

Published 1:19 pm Saturday, May 19, 2012


By Kimbra

3.5 out of 5 stars

Kimbra has been featured on a hit single, appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” and her album has charted in the Top 10 in multiple countries, but she’s just now primed for her own release in the U.S.

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The New Zealand artist became a household name, thanks in large part to her appearance on Gotye’s hit single “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

Kimbra’s own debut album “Vow” was released back in August and September in New Zealand and Australia, charting in the Top 5 in both countries. The album is officially going to be released in the U.S. May 22.

The album opens with “Settle Down” and “Something In the Way You Are,” which set up Kimbra’s sound as a pop that falls between bright, accessible choruses and brooding instrumentation.

Oddly enough, a few more down moments would benefit Kimbra’s sound.

There’s not much subtle about her sound. Even “Two-Way Street,” the first slow track on the album, is infused with drum beats, backing vocals and a collage of bells, strings and instruments.

The pleasant “Old Flame” takes on a 1980s vibe, until the song begins disappearing into aggressive drums, and vocal harmonies.

Sure, Kimbra’s overlapping vocals on songs like “Old Flame” and “Good Intent” are part of her charm, but the mix often outweighs the album.

The sound is firmly rooted in pop, but Kimbra aims high, mixing in other genres, and clearly trying for something beyond simple catchy grooves.

It’ll be interesting to see how Kimbra is received in the U.S. The album falls somewhere in a strange middle ground between eclectic and catchy, but never firmly settles on either.

It’s not as instantly gratifying as Adele, but there’s whole host of instrumentation backing Kimbra, and each song unfolds with multiple listens. There’s a lot of substance to the songs — maybe even too much.

At times, the beats, droning instrumentation, Kimbra and her backing vocals blend into musical overload.

In fact, it can be exhaustive to listen to the entire 55-minute album at once, largely because there are rarely down moments to break the wave of sound.

Kimbra’s highly beat-driven, diverse pop can be seen two ways: On one hand, it could bridge the gap between mainstream pop and more predominantly independent listeners and stations, but it’s also conceivable to see her fall between the two.

At 21, Kimbra flashes skill and potential, but she doesn’t always have the musical experience to hit the gas and brake at the right times.