Pity Kimbra, but just a bit. The young New Zealand singer-songwriter has an elastic, soulful voice and an ear for arranging screwball samples. But she entered the international limelight as the second-verse sidekick to another South Pacific-area singer with similar talents (hint: his name rhymes with “Gaultier” and he’s a fan of face paint).
That should all change with “Vows,” her international major-label debut that works like a more domesticated Björk effort. It’s a showcase for her wide-ranging vocal skills with a polite sonic adventurousness.
The opener, “Settle Down,” is a surprisingly funky beatbox boutique about knocking out kids, and that generally sets the tone for the rest of the record. The lite-jungle “Cameo Lover” is make-out music for people staying in modernist hotels with complicated faucets; “Good Intent” and “Plain Gold Ring” pitch-shift R&B harmonies and jazz instrumentation into something like dinner-party music for wine-buzzed androids.
Sometimes she’s self-consciously eccentric with her vocal tricks, but given her 1990s birthday, one can cut her slack for exploring how far she can push herself. Kimbra’s American fame may have come on the heels of someone else’s single, but there’s a vision here that’s entirely her own.
Two and a half stars (Out of four)
— August Brown