Peter’s Take: Kimbra’s Primal Heart

Originally Published On May 4, 2018

By Peter Wedlake

Kimbra. That name might be slightly familiar, but you can’t quite put your tongue on it. Kimbra Johnson (professionally just known as “Kimbra”) is a singer-songwriter hailing from New Zealand. She rose to fame in 2011 as the female voice on the Grammy winning song “Somebody That I Used To Know.” Since then she had gone onto realizing three albums, Vows in 2011, Golden Echo in 2014, and Primal Heart just a few weeks ago on April 20, 2018. Although appearing as a one-hit-wonder, Kimbra has grown a relatively small, but loyal fanbase. With her latest album, Kimbra has added me to that fanbase.

Kimbra exists much the same as Lorde, on a slightly different musical plane. Much like Lorde, Kimbra has more depth than just a singer or a songwriter, she also is slightly too purposeful to be a musician. To me, Kimbra has truly singled herself out as an artist. Much of this cannot actually be seen in her studio albums, instead it exists in the form of one-off live performances. She has developed her live performances to be a deconstruction of her studio versions. Kimbra then literally manipulates each section of her work to create a one of a kind musical masterpiece, only there for those who bought tickets (or recorded the event to later post it on YouTube).

After a shallow introduction to Kimbra’s discography, it became apparent that Primal Heart is a bit of a mixture of her previous work. With Vows, Kimbra created a 60’s jazz inspired pop soundstage. In The Golden Echo, she created an eclectic electro-pop sound, almost purposefully overproduced. Primal Heart is the perfect merger of her previous albums. Kimbra creates jazz-inspired melodies and delitcaly places them on top of toned down electronic beats and rhythms. As much as jazz may have influenced the melodies on Primal Heart, R&B and Hip-Hop influenced the rhythm and flow of not just the music, but the album as a whole.

Standouts on the album are just that, standouts. By no means is the album full of fillers, nor is it full of memorable tracks. It strikes the perfect balance where the tracks in between the standouts act as recovery periods, allowing you to listen to something good and reflect on what was just heard.

For me, “Top of the World” is an early standout. The Skrillex collaboration reigns an ancient, almost ethereal quality. The booming bass and primal (pun not intended) drums create a jungle-inspired stage for Kimbra’s vocals to shine. Kimbra’s delivery is what stands out to me the most, her almost rap like delivery further builds the sense of urgency and delirium that the song portrays. “Top of the World” is a great example of the layering and track manipulation that Kimbra is capable of doing, she knows exactly when to build the vocals into a dramatic mountainscape to quickly juxtapose them with softer, lilac like moments.

In the vain of production, I think “Real Life” is the pinnacle of what Kimbra is, wants to be, and will be. This track more than any other, showcases Kimbra’s artistry in production. The song is completely acapella, using manipulated samples of her voice to counter her lyrical vocals in an instrumental manner. This method of sampling that Kimbra deploys creates a vivid soundstage to bask in for the final moments of the album.

Lastly, I’d like to single out “Version of Me” as a highlight of mine from the album. The track is a more stripped down song with Kimbra, her vocal samples, strings, and a piano. The stripped down production acts as a brilliant counter to the more intensely produced tracks of Primal Heart, like “Top of the World” or “The Good War.” Lyrically, the song also departs from the album in its self deprecating manner. Describing a relationship where the one person is aware of their flaws and is just hoping that their partner can stay for the person that they will or can become. The tracks comes towards the end of the album, providing a sense of realism and pragmatism to Kimbra’s slightly over-blown sense of reality that she displays earlier in the record.

Kimbra is an artist that within less than a decade has shown incredible growth in her production, songwriting, and vocal abilities. Primal Heart seems to mark her slow transition to incorporate her live performances into her discography. I am not too sure that everyone will absolutely love Primal Heart or Kimbra as a whole, but she has shown herself to be a formidable artist, one willing to learn from her mistakes, and one that should be watched with a close eye.