Apparently Kimbra had tentatively intended to replace the catchy bom-bo-bom-ba vocal hook on the track Settle Down with a similar horn line or a beat, but I'm glad she didn't.

Her vocal layering and looping is not only a signature sound, but a highlight of her diverse 11-track (plus bonus song) debut album. If you watch the live five-track DVD of her performing at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne that comes packaged with the CD, you understand her appeal as an engrossing performer.

She's a striking 21-year-old but she's also a delight to watch, full of theatrics, drama, and spiky, angular dance moves, and this translates to the album.

Originally from Hamilton, now based in Melbourne, she first appeared on our radar four years ago when she released the track Simply On My Lips - a breezy, acoustic-guitar-driven pop tune. Her sound has come a long way since. Vows ranges wide in its musical palette. Second single Cameo Lover is playful, sparkly, disco pop, while the follow-up, Good Intent, is more like a sly, strutting 1930s-inspired show tune with barbed reproaches, a hypnotic bass line and muted brass flourishes. The youthful yet darkly fragile cover of Nina Simone's Plain Gold Ring is a powerful showcase of her impressive vocal range (though more decorated than the original), and the scattering electronic and vocal wizardry of Limbo reminds of The Dirty Projectors. Closing track The Build Up is full of prepared piano, plucked strings, uncomfortable pizzicato, and rising and falling low horn arrangements under an almost stream-of-consciousness vocal delivery, which does feel like a slightly odd way to end such a triumphant album.


Produced by Kimbra, with Francoise Tetaz (Australian film composer who has worked with Architecture in Helsinki and Gotye), M-Phazes (Australian hip-hop producer who's worked with the likes of Pharoahe Monch and Talib Kweli) and little-known Kiwi producer Michael Tayler, the 11 tracks are groove-laden, lush arrangements, rhythmically strong with many vocal layers - she uses her voice as a colourful instrument, crossing timbres with ease.

The album covers a lot of ground, drawing from a wide musical repertoire - Bjork and Prince are among her many musical heroes - and it's evident she wanted to reference all these influences. But she has kept it united, lyrically and thematically, addressing the very human need to make and also break promises (hence the album title). Perhaps we can expect some refinement of direction on future albums, but this is her chance to experiment and follow tangents, which she does gleefully, with a confidence that belies her age.

Stars: 4/5
Verdict: Exciting vocal experiments on this colourful debut with impressive range.