6 Oct 2017

The Singles Life: Say hello to the new Kimbra

10:11 am on 6 October 2017

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

She’s back with a hot new single called ‘Everybody Knows’ and her new album features Skrillex, of all people. Hussein and Katie take in this new era for Kimbra and wonder: is she trying to tell us something?


Kimbra’s back! (For real this time)

Hussein: Hamilton's one and only Kimbra Lee Johnson is officially back with a brand new single from a brand new album which we now know is called Primal Heart.

If you've heard this one before, don't panic. Dead on a year ago, she dropped ‘Sweet Relief’, a cool comeback track that kind of sounded like a cross between Prince and Goldfrapp. It turned out to be a bit of a false start, despite our high hopes. Not to worry! Kimbra says Primal Heart is her “proudest work yet” and judging from ‘Everybody Knows’, she has good reason to be confident.


It’s a new chapter for Kimbra

Katie: The old Kimbra can’t come to phone right now. Why? Oh! Cause’ she’s dead!

Jk, jk. But in a lot of ways this is the dawning of a new Kimbra. She’s still got her shiny brunette bangs, incredible production, and lovely sultry voice but, as she says in ‘Everybody Knows’: “I was young and gullible, but baby I grew”.

It’s been four years since her last album and in that time Kimbra has, as she says, grown: She moved from Los Angeles to New York; she went to Ethiopia; she’s written for other artists; she’s made her own studio and hung out with big names, and now, finally she’s ready to share the fruits of her labour.

If ‘Everybody Knows’ is any indication Kimbra is leaning into her pop sensibilities while dialling back some of her signature theatricality. She has, she told fans in one of her apparently self-penned email newsletters, “become less interested in the decorative maximalism of my past sonic adventures and hunting more for a core emotion that unfolded with texture and mystery”. So basically: more feeling, fewer frills.

Skrillex is also on her new album

Hussein: Look, if there's one thing we know about Kimbra, it's that she's never been the type to be pigeon-holed. Over the years, she's enlisted the help of some very unlikely collaborators, including Ben Weinman (The Dillinger Escape Plan), Omar Rodríguez-López (The Mars Volta), Matt Bellamy (Muse) and Daniel Johns (Silverchair).

That trend is not over yet. Skrillex, the dubstep phenom turned pop powerhouse, also worked with Kimbra on a new song from the upcoming Primal Heart.

And the song is on FIFA 18

Katie: As improbable as it sounds, yes Kimbra worked with legendary EDM producer and DJ Skrillex to produce a track called ‘Top of the World’ which also somewhat improbably has pride of place alongside Lorde in the FIFA 18 soundtrack.

Sadly a video of Kimbra performing said song live that I had planned to embed, previously available on YouTube, has been deleted due to copyright or something. But it was awesome! You'll have to take my word for it.

I have not played FIFA, but I gather this is a big (and veeery lucrative) honour.

What else we know about Primal Heart

Hussein: It’s being produced by Grammy award winner John Congleton, who has worked with everyone from St. Vincent to David Byrne to The War On Drugs. Kimbra's also talked about finding inspiration from artists like Dave Longstreth from Dirty Projectors, who is also rumoured to be involved in the record. Just don’t be surprised if he’s not.

“There’s always been amazing people I’m working with and bringing into the circle but in a way I’ve been intentional about this record being quite a focus less on features and more about my message,” she told Triple J.

Kimbra might be trying to tell us something

Katie: Though she keeps her cards pretty close to the chest, what we can discern from Kimbra’s interviews so far about Primal Heart is that the new material will be more personal, honest and vulnerable - in terms of both content and production.

Talking to Junkee, she gives a pretty candid assessment of how her new style differs from that which preceded it: “I’m 27 now, and I think that there’s a little less bullshit and more wanting to just speak to things with a little more reality.

“It just feels like I’m a little less scared to talk about pain, my experiences as a woman, and put them a little more at the forefront of the work rather than needing to decorate them with fantasy.”

I don’t want to get too excited but this seems like a promising development from the artist who declined the label of feminist in 2012.

For Kimbra, it’s deeper than pop

Hussein: In that same interview for Junkee, Kimbra opens up about being categorised as a pop artist and why she wants to use the genre to push people to think deeper.

“I believe that pop music shouldn’t dumb people down,” she said. “I think pop should make people smarter. I feel sad when pop becomes just a format of the same tiring formulas, and you know everything that’s coming. If that’s what pop music becomes, then I don’t want to be called a pop artist. Invent some other genre to put my music in.”

Hurry up with the album already.

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