It’s been nearly seven years since Kiwi songstress Kimbra Johnson, who simply goes by the mononym Kimbra, teamed up with Australian Wally De Backer – who is otherwise known as Gotye – on the song, Somebody That I Used to Know. Taking the world by storm, in no small part thanks to Johnson’s vocal contribution, the song was so massively successful that it’s easy to forget that Kimbra is an outstanding artist in her own right. While her début album, Vows, and sophomore effort, The Golden Echo, haven’t made her a household name, Johnson’s third record, Primal Heart, shows that Johnson’s art-pop sensibilities continue to develop.
Where Vows and The Golden Echo were prone to get lost in lush pop arrangements, Primal Heart is a sonically sparser offering, with much of its sound borrowing from the intersecting space of hip-hop/R&B and electronica. These elements couple well with Johnson’s naturally soulful voice and her impeccable pop artistry. Primal Heart opens with The Good War, and the track’s strong, pulsing, electronic beat drives the listener onwards. The synth stabs on the chorus are something I could personally do without, but overall the song works and Johnson’s vocal performance is very good.
Lead single Everybody Knows features a well-executed build to the chorus, and with lines like “everybody knows ’bout what you do” and “now the whole world’s watching you” bring to mind the stories from the #MeToo movement. Top of the World, the album’s second single, was co-written and produced by Sonny Moore aka Skrillex, though the song isn’t inflected with the dud-step squalls for which he is known, rather it is lent a hip-hop flavour courtesy of Johnson’s vocal delivery. Past Love features an R&B/soul vibe that sees the song stand out from the surrounding tracks on the record, while Version of Me has a minimal(ish) sound that imparts a cinematic feel.
With Lightyears, Johnson crafted a song with a very insistent sound that is quite a decent update on the eighties revival trend. An interesting aural texture is created with the vocal layerings and counterpoints of Human, and together with the highly effected vocals of Real Life demonstrate that Johnson still seeks to infuse her pop with some art, and more to the point is quite good at doing just that. Primal Heart sees Kimbra continue to develop as a songwriter and performer, and we can’t wait for album number four.