Kimbra, "The Golden Echo" (Warner Bros.)
In a year in which many big-ticket records have stressed brevity and focus, there's something to be said for New Zealand pop iconoclast Kimbra's "The Golden Echo."
Best known in America for her vocals on the Gotye smash "Somebody That I Used to Know," the magnetic multi-instrumentalist on her second solo album moves through a strange and often surprising set of tones and approaches. A virtual layer cake of futuristic funk pop, contemporary R&B and maximalist Top 40 music slathered with the purple icing of Prince, "The Golden Echo" swaps styles with gleeful — and at times reckless — abandon, an apt pop offering for this pattern-on-pattern cultural moment.
A remarkable chameleon, at various points Kimbra swings her voice to suggest Chaka Khan, Amy Winehouse, the xx's Romy Madley Croft and Janelle Monae, and weaves her tone through music thick with structural experimentation. "Waltz Me to the Grave" is a hazy seven-minute jam suggestive of Erykah Badu; "As You Are" is a beguiling, richly composed ballad featuring arrangements by Van Dyke Parks. Bonus track "Sugar Lies" is like if Kimbra hitched a ride on George Clinton's mothership.
Mixed in, though, are enough squeaky clean ditties to suggest fiddling from label reps who heard the first draft freakouts and demanded easier hits like "Love in High Places" and "Nobody But You." The latter, a middling stab at pop ubiquity, drops the album's IQ by a few points. A guest turn from John Legend shouldn't be surprising, especially considering that by the time it rolls around, we've been prepared for some whiplash.
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Chase Rice, "Ignite the Night" (Columbia Nashville)
Modern masculinist country has already spawned a backlash in the form of parody Twitter accounts and response songs, but it soldiers on, still looking for its apotheosis.
Up rides Rice, probably in a truck, almost definitely in a backward snapback cap, looking to get into a little trouble. "Ignite the Night" is his major-label debut album, and it's angling for a good time: the water and the sun; women who like to hang out by the water in the sun ("Your tan lines were the map for my hands to find their way/In that empty lifeguard shack"); trucks; women who like to ride in trucks ("I never seen a side ride seat looking so hot").
At his best, Rice is a Luke Bryan manqué: "Beer With the Boys" is a conceptual rip of Bryan's "Crash My Party," and a fine one at that. Many songs here are convincing — "How She Rolls" is prime power country — and it's clear that Rice has studied the playbook closely (as has his producer Rhett Akins).
But he has an undistinguished, sometimes hollow voice. Mining already well-worn territory would be fine, were the approach new, but at times Rice appears to be singing parody, as on "Look at My Truck," which invites someone who is presumably having difficulty getting straight answers from Rice to learn about him instead by examining what's going on in his truck. He's not kidding: The song is earnest and catchy, and is probably soon coming to a GMC commercial near you.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times