The Golden Echo
Reviewed by: Ari Roth
Kimbra’s “90s Music”, like Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” before it, refracts golden-age 90s pop through a cracked lens. Dirty Projectors were lauded for their use of hocketing – a device often found in medieval music and German serialist compositions in which a melody bounces back and forth between rapidly alternating instrumental textures, in this case the human voice. “90s Music” and much of Kimbra’s Golden Echo achieves a similarly dizzying effect through sudden, jarring jump cuts across seemingly disparate genres, styles, and textures. While this effect works astonishingly well on “90s Music”, The Golden Echo falters when the studio busyness and density of the arrangements buckle under their own weight. The Golden Echo sees a hugely popular artist push against the constraints of success, stretch out and take risks, which is laudable and promising. It would have been easy for Kimbra to write an album of “Somebody I Used To Know” soundalikes and achieve massive success anyway, but it’s clear from The Golden Echo that she has her sights set higher than that.
The highlights come early: “Teen Heat” starts the album off in fine form, with analog drum machines and a solid pop chorus trading off with dark orchestral lurches and murky textures. “Miracle” is a joyous, psychedelic, rubbery rollerskating jam, and one of the album’s best songs. “Madhouse” is a kaleidoscopic reinterpretation of 80s R&B and new jack swing, complete with swinging Linndrum programming and funky guitar work. Still, Kimbra can’t resist twisting the track a bit, throwing in unexpected phaser effects and an off-kilter breakdown at the end. “Nobody But You” is excellent too, centered around an album highlight chorus, full of clever voice-guitar interplay and a gorgeous rising harmonic figure that creates the auditory illusion of a glorious lift into a new key, even as it stays centered around the same chords.
From there, things begin to meander: “Rescue Him” starts off promisingly, but soon loses the thread and wanders off to an overlong conclusion. Songs like these see Kimbra experimenting with her vocal delivery, and there are a few moments on “Rescue Me” that are even intriguingly reminiscent of Kate Bush at her most operatic. It may simply be listener fatigue, but there’s a distinct sense of the album losing speed at this point, with several tracks – including “Everlovin’ Ya” – that are heavy on studio processing and low on the things that make songs work – compelling melodies, rhythms, ideas.
The Golden Echo is over an hour long, and I found myself fantasizing about ways to streamline it – cut a few songs here, edit out an outro there, and you’ve really got a much stronger album. Still, it’s clear that The Golden Echo treasures its own excessiveness, placing itself in a long tradition of longform blockbuster albums by newly established pop musicians, heavy on both indulgence and revelation. In the bigger picture, it’s tempting to see The Golden Echo as a middle chapter, a period of necessary (if occasionally awkward) growth towards a fully-realized artistic personality. An increased focus on textural reduction and concise, impactful songwriting could yield a truly great record in the future, and The Golden Echo has unexpectedly pricked my ears to an artist to whom I was previously indifferent.