Hiatus Kaiyote ‘Choose Your Weapon’ (Flying Buddha) 4/5

hiatus-kaiyoteHiatus Kaiyote are the ambitious Australian neo-soul quartet that formed in 2011. Their debut album ‘Tawk Tomahawk’ (2012) amassed quite a following, including high-profile fans such as DJ Gilles Peterson and drummer Questlove. Now they’re back with their eagerly awaited second album ‘Choose your Weapon.’
Described by their bassist Paul Bender as a “huge, massive, complex puzzle” it is an 18 track journey through the imaginatively cosmic and colourful world of their self-proclaimed ‘future-soul’. Led by Nai Palm, whose guitar and ethereal, athletic vocals soar through each song, weaving complex harmonies and layering melodic flourishes and licks in effortless style.
Their passion for the outdoors and natural world comes across in this album, which is clear from the poetic lyrics and the various atmospheric soundscapes conjured up within each track. It has an almost spiritual feel, where they invite you into their surrealist, dreamlike environment – at one point Nai has a jam with an owl, so expect things to get pretty weird and wonderful.
The opening, and title track ‘Choose your weapon’ is a prime example of this, setting the scene for the rest of the album. The electronic hum of the keys and video game elements sounds like the switching on, and warming up of the musical Kiayote machine. What immediately stands out on this album is the unusual, schizophrenic forms of these songs, ‘Shaolin Monk Motherfunk’ in particular. It appears to have numerous different chapters, all varying dynamically from each other, continually climbing, then diving in intensity, tempo and texture.
‘Fingerprints’ is a beautifully drifting, jazzy R&B track with a slow groove, made all the more infectious with Simon Mavin’s descending keys and Nai’s sultry and soulful harmonies. One of the rare occasions on the album where they stay at a familiar pace throughout, giving drummer, Perrin Moss, a well-earned break. Impressively this was written by Nai at the age of sixteen.
Another track on the album ‘Jekyll’ claims also to be one of the first songs she ever wrote, ‘Jekyll’ however, is somewhat more mature with complex polyrhythms, injections of progressive rock, and dense harmonic layers. ‘Atari’ is their tribute to vintage game consoles, and begins with a whimsically euphoric performance from Nai, which leads into an energetic combination of ‘Tetris’ meets ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ drum and bass. Also some killer grooves courtesy of bassist Paul Bender in the depths of this tune. Later, a slower, mechanical, and exceptionally grimy section brings a dubstep element, representing again, just how many different levels they can operate on.
‘By Fire’ is a dynamically dissonant triumph with Moss confidently manipulating the tempo, dragging and pushing throughout, not forgetting some great electronic synth from Mavin.
This mesmerising 70 minutes is jam-packed with creative ideas, and at times with possibly too much going on within each song. There are elements of Soul and R&B with Erykah Badu style vocals, Jazz, Funk, Prog, Dubstep, and even some early Basement Jaxx-esque qualities going on in here. This constantly modifying pace and shifting mood is hard to keep up with and can initially be frustrating, but once I became familiar with these changes they became enjoyable. Good to know that these guys have got so many ideas, it doesn’t look as though they will run out anytime soon. Some of the interludes you will end up skipping to get to the meatier songs, but there is no denying the brilliance of this album. You can get a chance to see this charismatic quartet in the U.K July 4 in London (Islington Assembly Hall) and at Love Supreme Jazz Festival in East Sussex July 5.

Lindsey Evans