When she released her self-titled EP in 2008, Wellingtonian Iva Lamkum turned heads. The striking Chinese/Samoan singer-songwriter has a voice that borrows from the best of singers like Lauryn Hill, Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse, without really sounding like anyone who's come before. Smooth and soulful but full of attitude, she also employs that voice in diverse ways, creating assured and inventive songs you'd expect from a much more experienced artist.
She impressed again when featured on Sola Rosa's hit track Turnaround, and when she released fiesty early single No back in 2009, expectations for her debut album were high.
It's taken a little longer than expected to release said debut, Black Eagle - that old foe, heartbreak, put the brakes on Lamkum's output for a while. But it also provided strong inspiration and the resulting album confirms she's a true diva in the making.
The album opens with cheeky, high-speed, reggae-funk number Bankrupt Visa, full of warm basslines, bubbling percussion, and eclectic guitars.
No is up next - opening with her stylish, swaggering, countdown "one, two, three, go!" It has a verse that pairs brilliant, almost a capella phrases with an aggressive bassline weaving through the gaps, completed by tasteful, snappy drumming, before it swoops into a warm, soul-funk chorus washed with keys and synths.
A soul-baring delivery from Iva on Black Eagle, playing on her own in the studio with just an electric guitar for accompaniment (some subtle backing vocals were added later) makes it a goosebump-inducing song, which sums up the album's theme of picking up and moving forward. "So how do I fix my mistakes, how do I fix what is broken?" is a simple sentiment, but she makes it ring true.
Come Back Enemy is another engaging slow-burner, with it's 90s-esque R'n'B qualities (Aaradhna lending a hand on backing vocals) coupled with Lamkum's quirky vocal twists.
But she's not all about serious ballads - she starts to raise the mood again with the easy skank of Blue Moscow, before launching into Raise Your Glass - an irresistible dance-along that cherry-picks from Motown, R'n'B , funk, hip-hop, and neo-soul in a gleeful destruction of genre boundaries.
The latter third of the album sounds a little less focused than the tracks above, mixing electronica and drum 'n' bass into her wide palette, with sometimes less-than-arresting results, but she finishes off with delightfully cruisy pop single Doo Bop. Produced by P-Money, the fun New York-ish beats provide a a platform for Lamkum to energetically bounce off - in turns crooning, rhythmical and sassy.
It may have taken her four years to release her debut but Lamkum has made a strong statement that would seem to indicate stardom isn't far off.
Verdict: Inventive, sassy debut from Wellington songstress
Click here to buy this album.