New Zealand singer-songwriter Kimbra Lee Johnson was barely 21 at the time of her debut, Vows, in 2011. When asked to speak about the record, the wisdom of her answer belied her youth: “Vows say a lot about who you are, and even more when we choose to break them.” Johnson’s influences, too—myriad and disconnected—broke with the conventional. She named Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and The Mars Volta when Vows was released, but her spectacularly versatile voice and willingness to explore with it led to numerous comparisons with Björk. Opener and first single “Settle Down” features jazz-scatted a capella set to minimal percussion—distinctly different from the insistent urban croon of “Two Way Street” or the staggered funk of “Call Me.” Second single “Cameo Lover” has the distinction of winning an ARIA Award and the 2011 Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition, relegating Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”—yet to become a worldwide smash— to third place. In a twist of fate, composer and producer François Tétaz, who co-wrote several tracks on Vows, recommended Kimbra as a guest vocalist to Gotye during mixing and the rest is history. Vows inspired other artists beyond the recording booth, a testament to Kimbra’s talent for creating music with an eye to what it might look like visually. Melbourne artist Vincent Fantauzzo was so taken by the singer that during the making of the music video to “The Build Up” he produced a portrait of her that became a finalist in the prestigious Archibald Prize.

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