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