Kimbra “VOWS” Review “Limbo”

Standard

“I’ve got a lot to lose, you’ve got a lot to prove.”

Indeed! Talk about putting someone on the spot!

After the begging and slightly unhinged nature of “Call Me”, “Limbo” ups the ante with what sounds like a “one way” conversation either with her seemingly cold and disinterested “Old Flame”, (or as he is called in the blog, “The Object”), or perhaps a deeper conversation involving someone else?

Is it the memory of the “Object” from Act 1 that she is wrestling with as in her loneliness she, as most of us have done, end up either calling the ex, or flirting with the idea of rekindling something that is familiar, though toxic?

Sounds like it on the surface for sure, but as is Kimbras wont to layer the possibilities, this may only be one idea of many, all of which co-habitate in this whirling dervish of a tune.

On first listen it sounds like the musical equivalent of a Kaleidoscope throwing shafts of light and shapes at a big blank wall.

Technically it is the shortest song on the album, (not including the inclusion of the final and most telling segue at the end), and it makes sense with the urgency it is putting forth and the excitable nature of the lyric.

This song was released on the Aussie /NZ version of the album but is not featured on the U.S. version, (though the song was released as part of a digital and Record Store Day release EP, as a B-side to “Settle Down” in these territories).

Many fans who know only the U.S. version know the song slightly out of context to the original release as the frenetic opener of her last spate of tours.

In a way, this song personifies the ‘quirk’ factor that many fans are so enamored with Kimbra for.

This fan included!

That being said, it would do her a disservice to harp on that parameter of her music as it is but a small bit of it and would diminish the depth of musical invention and passion in her music.

The song, in context after “Call Me”, becomes a significant event in the currently shifting states of mind of our Kimbra/Hybrid as she has left her childlike self waiting, (and wailing), as her new more confident, if reckless, self bullies her way forward…

…but is she talking to the “Object” or just the memory of the “Object”, (again the idea of self reflection as the central conceit at the moment). It becomes like a Gordian Knot in that though she feels she is moving confidently forward, her goal is something she has left behind and is hell bent and determined to either drag along with her or make the “Object” submit to her new edgy will.

Perhaps…

The first sound is like what I imagine a Fish sounds like swallowing, or of being consumed by something, literally, figuratively, emotionally, towards, perhaps, the sound of a Pandoras Box being opened or being sucked into an old scenario…

Starting with the juxtaposition of tribal like, (or war like) rhythms with childlike clapping and jumping voices and guitars in a nicely arranged light show of melodies, textures and polyrythmns

(One gets the sense that this must be the sound in Kimbras head at times!!)

The start of the piece reminded me of Japanese War Music and makes sense as she seems to be girding herself to do a form of battle, either with herself or by engaging with what one might term the enemy, (Her old love? Her old self? The unknown in general?)

Perhaps the tribal/War drums personify the idea that she is revisiting a certain amount of her own “ancient history”, (the rhythms are also somewhat reminiscent of “Settle Down” and its propulsive lope…more on that later!)

Using a title like “Limbo” of course, ones first thoughts might go to Limbo Dancing:

Clearly the initial element of tribal/War rhythms allude to it in an obvious manner but almost immediately the shift in context is apparent.

As one needs to contort ones body to accomplish the goal of dancing under a lowered pole by defying the laws of gravity and physics, so, perhaps, does one have to contort ones emotions at times to accomplish a similar feat of defying the reality of a particular situation to fit ones view of it.

The Kimbra/Hybrid is literally and figuratively going out on a limb to find something she has lost but actually may never have had in the first place.

Paradox.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox

What is also immediately evident is that the song seems to be staying firmly in the root of the Key in which the song was written with not alot of deviation, as if her feet are firmly planted and will not give ground…at this moment, though her head may be spinning wildly!

Within the maelstrom of sounds and shades, (in the form of the Angel/Demons sounding warnings and siren calls and generally just trying to make a racket to steer her away from her task perhaps?), is the definite shade of a MALE voice, (either Kimbras voice was altered or is indeed a sampled male voice, it sounds like a Male voice, which is a very new color on the album and hints at more to come further into Act 2…spoilers?)

Perhaps…

“I’ve got a lot to lose, you’ve got a lot to prove

I’ve got a lot to risk, you know I can’t afford to miss.”

Kimbra/Hybrid lays it out, no ifs, and or buts, “What have you got for me? I don’t have time to futz around.”

Throughout the verse though the sound of that male voice, sort of grunting in false and cold acknowledgment of what he is hearing…he sounds clearly disinterested…perhaps an air of disdainful politeness…if it is the THEE “Object” from Act 1, he’s married now!

Or maybe it is a new Male figure…?

More on this later…

“Are we gonna run around forever just typing?”

Texting/emailing…type casting…with all of the movie references on the album, (whether real or as theorized in this blog),  perhaps both she and him have been type cast in very text book roles of the spurned lover and her straying ex mate, both clinging to those roles as created for and by themselves during the relationship.

Thinking of what could have been and might be?”

Nostalgia for a misremembered past that she hopes can be rekindled…

“I know you say you’re sorry you take back the fall.”

Is he sorry, or just sorry he got caught? Perhaps there is another reason he might be sorry for “playing a part” in the fall…(Her fall? His fall? Their fall together? All of the above?)

“We’re running round in limbo, running round it all.”

My favorite moment of the song is as the first line is sung over the lyric less opening vocal riff that weaves its way throughout the song, competing with the line “Are we gonna run around forever just typing?”.

It was immediately reminiscent to me of the perfect pop melodic work of Andy Partridge as part of XTC:

Great melodic pop  is a rarity in this day and age and thank God for Kimbra swooping in with her gorgeous gift because I,  for one, had begun to despair of there ever being real melody driven Pop music again! It is out there but one must look hard for it it seems! Don’t get me started!!

…sorry…deviating is my default!

Kimbras melodies are deft at darting around the root note of her songs, (again hinting at fleeting eye contact), but here she always ends up on the root which has only happened once or twice in Act 1 through 6 songs and suddenly she is staring down her old nemesis it seems…Though, they do say that if you make eye contact with certain species of animals they will look at it as a gesture of aggression and attack… perhaps she should be careful…

…and suddenly you hear this little angels bell in naked repose like a rain drop just before the deluge against the quickly filling soundscape…seemingly signaling that her time was up to try and say to him in as concise a way as she could what she needed to say.

Is that bell a personification of what is left of her fragile childhood essence sneaking through? Perhaps another iteration of the clockwork sounds adding the time/clock element already hinted at in other songs…

The Angel/Demons seem to start weaving a wall of alarming vocalizations between the Kimbra/Hybrid and the “Object” as they sense his attitude and how it must be making her feel so they are trying to protect her by building that wall and trying to dissuade her from continuing this quest.  They seem almost mute in comparison to the very verbal chorus from Act 1, as if they can no longer speak to her in real words, just in exclamatory sounds of alarm, surprise or admonishment, as if they have lost the facility to speak in concrete and direct ways.  She seems to all but ignore them at this point.

“Show me that there’s something I could go back for.

More hope for the her past as future…

Show me that there’s love worth fighting for.

Give me a good reason to believe it all.

We’re running round in limbo, running round it all.”

This verse is a beautiful tapestry of sounds, (I would love to hear a surround sound mix of this album by the way!!!…sorry!…deviating again!)

The tribal sounds turn into more of a new wave Linn Drum kind of vibe within the second verse and suddenly we are no longer dealing with the past per se… things are more towards an ever present…well…PRESENT!

There is s clockwork precision here that as heart beats goes, seems strong if not a little adrenaline fueled! As the song progresses, it start to feel, (purposefully) robotic as if everything is on automatic, emotions, attitudes, arguments etc.  She is in a state between real emotions and feelings in the state of mind where everything is rote or predictable because it is less painful sometimes to inhabit even a toxic relationship rather than something untried as at least one knows what one will be getting.  Also reminded me of these guys!!

I sense though that she is aware of where she is and is commenting on it with her caution and wary attitude towards the “Object”.

There is a little interlude that sounds like the Kimbra/Hybrid, literally hopping about and taunting him before we head to the bridge…

Bridges…spoilers!

(With some help from Mark Taylor, (M-Phazes), this is basically Kimbras Production piece on the album and listening to all of the little nuances of rhythm, a slapped chest sound here, a wonky synth pop there, gasping gulps of air as rhythm device(!) and the massed glory of multiple Kimbras dancing around each other in a wonderful ballet of chaos makes for a hopeful hint of her future Production work that the album, (both versions) hints at! The style is also reminiscent of the Kitchen sink approach of Cornelius)

Now the tribal War drums are back…she is back in a defensive posture. The bar has been lowered and set afire…reason and logic are no longer part of the conversation:

“If you say you’re scared then I’m terrified.

If you say you’re ready then I’m justified.

If you say it’s easy then you’ve crossed the line. 

If you say it’s over then I’m in denial.”

Talk about covering ones bases emotionally speaking!

She has made up her mind, (minds!), on this one and no matter how the relationship would go she thinks, now that she has pre-supposed all possible ways for it to proceed, that she will be ready for any emotional outcome no matter the cost.

Perhaps this was a fools errand all along because emotions and circumstances rarely go as planned!

She has utterly painted into herself into a corner.

Now we have a repeat of the 2nd verse but it isn’t pretty as Kimbra sings in a polychordal block that rubs against the grain of the root note.

Perhaps the Angels/Demons finally have found their voice again albeit briefly and in a labored manner as if it is painful for them to speak intelligibly. There is also a sudden time shift of the background tapestry of something slipping out of synch…but she tries again to re-iterate the gravity of the situation…it is getting harder to keep up the pretense that she can make this work at all.

“Show me that there’s something I could go back for.

Show me that there’s love worth fighting for.

Give me a good reason to believe it all.

We’re running round in limbo, running round it all.”

…finally resolving to a another quiet interlude repeating the first line of the song and the hint of a chord change with a prayerful sounding organ.

“I’ve got a lot to lose, you’ve got a lot to prove.”

It’s a moment of genuine feeling and is actually the pivot point of the album.

I’ll say that again…

This moment of the quiet chord change within the space of a song with only one chord and hardly any space in the soundscape, suddenly the fairy chimes that were ubiquitous in so much of the early moments of the album, and personifies youth and childhood, are reintroduced in a slow and deliberate manner across the stereo field…

The reason this is the pivot point of the album will become clearer later… just keep it in mind…

Back to the airy Linn drum vibe and now her head is literally spinning it seems. There are more fairy chimes and more emphasis on the backwards guitar and rhythm parts as well as the arrangement shifting time patterns across each other as though the inner workings of this head space/clockwork have stripped its gears and are in danger of slipping and failing completely. The issue of things fracturing further comes to mind in how the end of the song sounds, the sheen of the backwards guitars specifically animates the sound of a mirror…

(The shifting tenses of the instruments and vocals here is truly striking in its simple complexity.)

Not many musicians can remind me of painting or art as personified by their music but Kimbra can and “Limbo” does as it embodies the vibe via sound and arrangement of the drawings of M.C. Escher

Escher's_Relativity

Magic_Mirror

See?

“Show me that there’s something I could go back for.

We’re running round in limbo, running round it all.”

She repeats this as the song spins into it’s final throws, but in the background is an old voice from “Call Me”, the passionate voice that had been left in the dungeon howling in heartfelt pain.

“Show me that there’s love!”

The link to the previous song is solidified. There is still deep passion despite the robotic automaton that has been represented in this song. She isn’t utterly cold to the core of her passionate being.  If anything it has re-awakened those feelings, though painful…and they cannot be contained.

The Angels/Demons start to fade away and all that is left is the quieting heartbeat, the backwards guitars and the song ends with the last cold, flippant Male grunt…he has not been moved by the Kimbra/Hybrids pleas or arguments…he offers nothing, much as he offered nothing while they were together.

A short silence and suddenly we hear something coming out of the mist, something vaguely familiar but different in its approach…

It’s another segue… it’s a reprise of “Settle Down”!

what?!!

(At that point any idea left in my head that this album was NOT a concept album was blown out of the water!!  Reprises, like segues, are like a Law in the land of concept albums!)

But it is different…There is a very adult sounding Hip Hop beat, along with an elastic synth Bass almost subsuming a loop of part of the chorus, which to my ears, in this odd “remix”, sounds like a cast off from The Beach Boys “Love You” era!

Ok quick digression…

(As I am older, my musical frames of reference are of what I grew up with and what may have influenced the people that influenced the much younger Kimbra. She discovered The Beach Boys via the brilliant Van Dyke Parks’ involvement as arranger for Silverchairs “Diorama” album…

…and the thread, whether purposeful or via the collective conscious, is real and tangible.  As I was an older, stubborn and somewhat bitter and jaded musician in my attitudes towards new music, (that it was all rubbish!), I did not know of Silverchair and the work of Daniel Johns. The wonderful circle grows ever greater as I was turned on to them via Kimbra and find myself much less judgmental of new and undiscovered music.

That she has now worked professionally with both Van Dyke and Daniel recently, honors the wonderful and magical thread we call music that weaves its abstract way through the cosmos and manifests within these little balls of energy we call the soul.

Whew!! Ok back to the Reprise!!

Is the Kimbra/Hybrid, trying to regress herself so that she can be care free and a child again, with nothing but fresh possibilities ahead of her or is she emerging from a tunnel of her own making?

Perhaps “Limbo” was actually a “Fugue state”. Here is a fascinating article about it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/17/health/psychology/17brody.html?pagewanted=all

It also brings to mind the musical equivalent of the Fugue and is certainly echoed in the invention and arrangement of “Limbo”.

Johann Sebastian Bach would have loved Kimbras inventive work.

(I imagine what this piece would sound like as a full string arrangement…Mr. Parks! Get on that!!)

http://www.baroquemusic.org/bqxjsbach.html

His work “The Art Of The Fugue” is the ultimate statement written in the Baroque style and was seen as very unhip at the time, (1740-1750), (the modern vernacular not withstanding)!

My favorite interpretation is by “The Canadian Brass”.

Here is Contrapunctus 1:

The “Baroque Pop” nature of the song, with its poly-melodic content, intent to dramatize the conflicting voices in concert but also in chaos, is a perfect analog to the possible notion that the dialogue was, as I have hinted at before, internally driven, the inner selves at war with each other.

There are also the sounds of a gathering of people in the back ground, scratchy and degraded sounding, (another phone line?), but they sound mocking and unfriendly, (you hear another distinctive male voice say Oh My God!” in an exasperated manner), like the taunting of schoolchildren in the playground that actually never goes away when we grow up…the playground taunting becomes adult oriented and is driven by the same impulses… IGNORANCE and FEAR.

Are those taunting voices her Angels/Demons now dissociating themselves from her? Are they her own internal voices rejecting the folly of her entertaining the idea to rekindle lost love?

The innocence of “Settle Down” has been scarred, twisted and contorted like that limbo dancer trying but failing to get under that lowered burning bar.

But is there another conceit here?

The idea of Limbo is a loaded one in general.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbo

There is a deep religious context to the idea of Limbo.

Is this “Fugue” state an attempt by the Kimbra/Hybrid to seek something more spiritual in nature? Was she actually talking to the memory of her past while also asking questions of a specific deity?

The first verse lyrics especially could allude to her perhaps taking a leap of faith towards a spiritual or religious solution to bring peace to her warring selves.

“I’ve got a lot to lose, you’ve got a lot to prove

I’ve got a lot to risk, you know I can’t afford to miss.”

The Catholic idea of a Limbo is the place where unbaptized souls go. Also, it was where Christ was said to have resided before ascending to Heaven after the crucifixion.  As she feels she is in Limbo herself, is she also talking to the echoes of Christs time spent there?

…but the echo cannot respond as it is just that…an echo.

Is that the cold male acknowledgment grunting in indifference?

Her faith indeed being tested already…?

Is she hoping for a rebirth towards enlightenment…the sound of the “Settle Down” reprise slowly fading in could also illustrate musically, a ‘rebirth’ into the land of the living so to speak…

...hence the feeling that the middle point of the song is the pivot point of the record heading towards some resolve. The sound of being sucked back into reality, (reborn) into a harsh and difficult world where ones faith is tested daily seems as apt a way to describe that little moment in the middle of the song, which also happens to have a churchy sounding organ signaling that key change.

Accident?

Hmm!!

(Side note: The “Settle Down” Reprise Segue does not appear on the vinyl release of the Aussie/NZ version, but it does appear on the U.S. CD version after the song “Posse”!)

So yeh…ACT 2 is loaded for bear!

Is that segue a harbinger of things to come?

There are 3 songs left in this movie so things are building up…(!)

All this and its a damned catchy dance tune as well!

Genius!

The Next Installment: “Wandering Limbs”

(sound of record scratching)….

Wait a sec…“Wandering Limbs”? Next to a song called “Limbo”?

Not only is Kimbra deeper than meets the eye, but she’s clearly got a wicked sense of humor!!

Got a huge guffaw over that one!!

© 2013 QORQ PRODUCTIONS/Joseph L Auger
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