After four long years, it’s finally here. The New Zealand indie pop singer, Kimbra, released her third studio album entitled “Primal Heart” on April 20.
Story by Gabrielle Sanchez
I feel as though I should include this disclaimer at the start of this review: I am a huge fan of Kimbra. Her last album, The Golden Echo, has been a large source of musical inspiration for me and her first album made a similar impact. So, my expectations for "Primal Heart," the New Zealanders third studio album, were very high. I enjoyed the singles from this album, but they had to grow on me. Something about them did not strike me as true to the Kimbra I listened to, but came across as songs from a simplified pop star that I did not really connect to her previous work. Then the full album came out.
Upon first listen, I really had to push down all of the thoughts that told me that this was not what I was expecting and therefore bad. I recognize that artists can be diverse and change sounds many times throughout their careers. This is a strong attempt by Kimbra to break into the US pop charts and an attempt at finding herself within US charts many years after her feature on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” However, this is pretty transparent as a work by an artist that wants to be more accessible. One example of this is the song “Black Sky,” which sounded more like a Taylor Swift song than one from a powerhouse producer, arranger and artist such as Kimbra. She has become well known for her high levels of experimentation, especially in her live performances, but a few songs played it safe.
Now onto what’s good.
Lyrically, Kimbra delivers. She paints a picture of pain and loss in songs such as “Version of Me” and “Human,” as well as triumph and moving on in songs such as “Top of the World” and “Recovery.” The use of booming beats and vocal effects is interesting and ties into a theme of primality, intensity and power. However, much of the synth work comes across as simply dreamy in tracks like “Everybody Knows” and “Like They Do On the TV,” especially when it’s contrasted with a very stark and forward use of synth.
Although Kimbra’s vocal styling is much more subdued on "Primal Heart," there are still times in which her signature, jazz infused style comes through, even if the overall album lacks soul. “Version of Me,” the ballad of the album, showcases Kimbra’s experimentation and vulnerability, and is a great listening spot. However, the highlight of this album is definitely “Past Love.” The song is reminiscent of her jazz and soul ties. It also reflects Kimbra’s ability to upturn musical tropes, if and how she wants to.
Overall, it’s a good album. Is it a good Kimbra album? I’m not so sure. This album is a great summer listen, with numerous lighthearted bops such as “Lightyears.” However, "Primal Heart" lacks a level of connection that was present in her past works. "Primal Heart" seems to be the product of an artist with a lot of experimental ideas, who is also trying to join the mainstream crowd. There are instances where I wish she went one step further to bring greater life into the songs.
Kimbra will be in Austin next month for a show at Mohawk, with tickets available now. In her live performances, she is known to really lean into her experimental side, which should shed a new light on the album as a work.