6 Oct 2016

The Singles Life: The sweet relief of Kimbra’s comeback

12:10 pm on 6 October 2016

Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.

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Photo: John-Michael Fulton

Kimbra is back and better than ever. But did she wait too long? Katie Parker and Hussein Moses have been watching the clock.


Katie: Did Kimbra drop off the radar? It feels like forever since we’ve heard from her and now she’s arisen again with this weird, catchy and, dare I say it, “funky” new song and video complete with weird hairy bodies and not a cutesy bob in sight.

Even though I hated Somebody That I Used To Know, I always liked Kimbra and it feels weird that she kind of seemed to vanish after her second album a couple of years ago.

She was a bit of a victim of timing in a way – when Vows came out she eclipsed Zowie and Ruby Frost who had tried the same kind of thing the year before, only to have almost exactly the same thing done to her by Lorde just a year or two after.

Of course that's totally stupid. There should be enough room for more than one brunette female pop singer, so it's nice to see Kimbra keep on keeping on.

Perhaps this whole narrative is entirely in my head, but because of it I sort of heard Sweet Relief as a comeback track. And it’s a good one, better and more interesting than her previous stuff. Is Kimbra back … for good???

Hussein: What you’ve mentioned is definitely a narrative I’ve heard before and my theory is that people see Kimbra like this because she’s gone about things in a generally unconventional way. Instead of doubling down on the pop success of Vows, she went and enlisted collaborators like Ben Weinman (The Dillinger Escape Plan), Omar Rodríguez-López (The Mars Volta), Matt Bellamy (Muse) and Daniel Johns (Silverchair) to help frame up some of her recent work. (There’s a joke about what growing up in Hamilton will do to you in here somewhere.)

For Sweet Relief, she’s hooked up with London-based producer Redinho, who’s been spending his time lately working on the forthcoming album from Swet Shop Boys (the rap duo made up of Heems from Das Racist and Riz Ahmed). Like her other recent collabs, this one sees her take things in another direction again. It’s obviously indebted to Prince, which is no surprise considering she recently performed at tribute concerts for him and she’s written extensively about how The Purple One changed the way she makes, listens, thinks and feels about music.

“No record that Prince ever made was easily marketable in terms of definable genres or subject material,” she said. “He was a force that stood entirely in his own league, unmatched and ever-evolving.”

That approach applies here, too. Sweet Relief doesn’t really parallel much else that you’ll hear on radio at the moment, but that’s all good with me. You’ve got to appreciate the fact that she’s at least trying to push things forward.

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Photo: John-Michael Fulton

Katie: Well that’ll teach me for making assumptions. But I feel like it’s one that a lot of people would make, which is a strange reminder of how limited our ideas of success are here in lil’ ol’ enzed.

It took a few listens but this song has definitely grown on me. It’s fun and catchy and you’re right, it’s a bit of a detour from everything else being made right now. She’s still got the great voice and it’s so great she hasn’t gone down the husky vocal fry road that so many of her peers are taking right now. I’m not really a ~Prince person~ (please don’t kill me) but I like this sound a lot. It’s a cool video, but it’s kind of a sexy song and this video is just not sexy. I almost wish she was in it doing some saucy moves or something (sorry, Laura Mulvey).

Hussein: I’m into the fact that it’s a little more stripped back than what we’ve been accustomed to from her lately. The Golden Echo felt pretty overblown at times, like she wasn’t able to figure out how to channel all her talent into something that actually worked as a pop song. That’s not an issue here: there’s less going on, but that works in her favour. Trying to find the middle ground between musicality and musicianship is the key and I think she’s pulled it off with Sweet Relief.

I’m also getting some serious Goldfrapp vibes the more I listen to this song.

Katie: What interests me is what people make of her in this post-Lorde world. We’ve all spent so much time patting ourselves on the back for having an artist that Taylor Swift wants to hang out with that it almost feels like we’ve peaked when really that should just be the beginning.

In the ~narrative~ we talked about before, Kimbra barely had time to develop as an artist before we’d forgotten about her and moved onto someone else. That might be incorrect, but I still worry that there's some kind of imagined space issue here that jostles these people out just as they get some momentum.

Kimbra’s working with all these interesting people and producing this cool new stuff and she’s still only 26. Considering her third album is yet to be recorded then we may still have a wait for another release.

She’s not in a hurry – why are we?

Follow Katie and Hussein on Twitter.