Sunday, April 29, 2018

Primal Heart | Kimbra

It’s high time that Kiwi singer-songwriter Kimbra is recognized on her own merit. Not as “Gotye collaborator Kimbra” or “‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ Kimbra,” but simply as Kimbra. She's a woman whose solo career far outshines her 30-second, vocally ambiguous guest spot in a stellar one-off hit that threw her career into an awkward, premature spike. And if there’s such an album that can convince people to pay attention, Primal Heart should be it.

Primal Heart, her third record and first in four years, explores the human condition through experimental synthpop tracks that are freakishly organic. Tribal beats, mocked up samples, and unraveling melodies run rampant over complex instrumentation – perhaps best exhibited on the stellar Skrillex-assisted single "Top of the World." She sing-raps just slightly off-kilter, signaling vocoders in and out of the mix to haunting results, before the song resolves into a chanted hook about the desire to conquer all who stand in her way. Over her soundscapes, she exercises her vocals expertly. She flexes her stronger middle and lower registers ("Black Sky,” “Human") and either double-tracks her upper notes for strength ("The Good War," "Like They Do On The TV") or buries them in the mix as a sound effect ("Lightyears").

Her previous record, 2014's The Golden Echo, was sewn with equally intricate patchwork, but it operated on the premise of idealistic love; this record reveals its cracks, where primal urges render weakness, control, and triumph. "Got a heart that’s primal. ‘Cause, yeah, I need your love for my survival," she wails on "Human" before crooning through a frank conclusion: "This is what is means to be human. Don’t know much but I know this much is true." She often struts with confidence – "Everybody Knows," "Top of the World" – but eventually cracks. "Version of Me," the album’s standalone ballad, and the Auto-Tune-drenched "Real Life" tiptoe the album to its close, both cautiously questioning Kimbra’s reality.

Kimbra’s instincts led her through the creation of a potently hypnotic and accessible record. Working with elements of a genre that can be so robotic, she orchestrates clashing electronics to form a very human set of tracks. Following her emotional command, her tracks unhinge when she's at her most confident and pull back when she falls into introspective valleys. Her melodies are just as breathtaking as the encompassing production that supports them, her lyrics convey the four-year effort of living and learning that it took to write them, and most importantly, the star behind the record isn't afraid to stay in touch with her primal side and come back punching.

Primal Heart is available now under Warner Bros. Records.

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