Quick Spins: Kimbra’s ‘Vows’

May 21, 2012
Kimbra
Vows

The sleeper hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” has already turned its maker, Belgian singer Gotye, into a new version of Sting for people who never liked the old version. It now seems poised to turn his duet partner, New Zealand singer Kimbra Johnson, into a new version of Björk for people who miss the gawky, early ’90s, fresh-from-the-Sugarcubes version. Kimbra’s official debut, “Vows,” is snappy and smart, an often-great pop album with a knack for sounding more exotic than it is. It shoehorns in a little bit of everything: Nancy Sinatra pop, show tunes, funk, kittenish light jazz and a respectable Nina Simone cover (“Plain Gold Ring,” done as somberly as the chipper Kimbra can manage).

It’s a typically omnivorous first album that, in its fallow moments (“Vows” is 55 minutes and change) can seem scattered. Huge-voiced, aggressively sprite-like Kimbra sometimes seems less like the spiritual offspring of Björk than a slightly strained facsimile, as if someone in a lab somewhere had stitched together an assemblage of Björk-like attributes; the keening voice, that childlike laugh that’s adorable at first but gets to be terrifying after a while.

“Vows” kicks off with “Settle Down,” in which the singer expresses to someone (A boyfriend? A crush?) her desire to get married and have babies. Like, right now. “Won’t you raise a child with me?” trills Kimbra over a bed of bop-bops and hand claps, adding, perhaps necessarily, “There’s no need to run.” On paper, it sounds a little desperate. In reality, it’s also desperate, but charming, too, and it sets the tone early: Kimbra isn’t afraid to sound weird. And she doesn’t play hard to get.

Allison Stewart

Recommended Tracks

“Cameo Lover,” “Settle Down,” “Plain Gold Ring”

Cover art for Kimbra's album “Vows” (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
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