After the global success of "Somebody That I Used to Know," her Grammy-winning duet with Gotye, Kimbra could have worked with anyone; on The Golden Echo, it feels like she worked with almost everyone. Along with producer Rich Costey, her collaborators include members of the Mars Volta, Muse, Foster the People, and Silverchair, as well as John Legend and Bilal. Having so many guests with so many different backgrounds could have resulted in a scattered mess, or pushed Kimbra out of the spotlight, but her sense of adventure puts her signature on even the most kaleidoscopic moments. Chief among them is "90s Music," a hyperactive collage that pays homage to TLC, Aaliyah, and Nirvana in its lyrics and to Timbaland and Missy Elliot in its sleek beat. It shows just how far Kimbra can push the boundaries and still have something resembling a pop song; the answer is "pretty far," considering that a brass band, a hook that sounds like a radio station ID, and a modem-like synth also make appearances. Though it doesn't sound like anything else on the album, it provides The Golden Echo's statement of purpose, reflecting how effortlessly she hops from the trap-inspired minimal R&B of "Goldmine" to the lush balladry of "Love in High Places." Kimbra's debut album, Vows, hinted at this audaciousness, but for all the musical territory it covered, it never felt like it had a center. Here, she sounds much more in control as she borrows from Prince, Michael Jackson, and others who knew how to spin their wildest flights of fancy into chart-topping gold. The King of Pop's drummer John "J.R." Robinson even plays drums on the winning "Miracle," which fuses disco, funk, and Motown together with a glossy briskness that keeps it from sounding retro. However, based on the many Prince homages like the erotic, high-drama opener "Teen Heat" and the funky "Madhouse" -- which also nods to Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract" -- Kimbra's favorite color must be purple. Songs like these make it clear why she and Janelle Monáe are friends and collaborators; less directly, Kimbra's sultry playfulness also recalls Roisin Murphy. Like those artists' work, her mashups always feel fresh while borrowing from the past: thanks to its undeniable chorus, "Nobody But You" would be a hit in the '90s or the 2010s, while "Carolina"'s hooks, sugar-rush melody, and processed harmonies suggest a Fleetwood Mac from the future. The album loses some energy on its ballads, reaffirming that Kimbra's boldest moves are her best. Still, it's pretty remarkable that all of her quirks and ambitions come together on these songs so seamlessly and consistently. An album that just becomes more engaging with time, The Golden Echo lives up to its name: it refashions the best of what came before it into something alluringly modern and a lot of fun.
The Golden Echo Review
by Heather Phares