Multi-dimensional, Polyrhythmic Gangster S**t. Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? That’s how Australian neo-soul four-piece Hiatus Kaiyote describe themselves. A little different to what you might describe Erykah Badu’s – who championed the band’s first album Tawk Tomahawk and invited them along on tour with her as a support act – music as or D’Angelo’s, but then, this foursome isn’t cut from the exact same cloth as their neo-soul forefathers, although it’s as good as fact that their existence is owed to them.
What Badu and D’Angelo have given us over the years has been golden, and the two have been pivotal in shaping the neo-soul sound that we now know, and pretty much every act in the genre has them to thank for inspiration. You have to pay your respects where they’re due. It’s just that on new album Choose Your Weapon, Hiatus Kaiyote take that sound further than it’s ever been, on to different plains, and breathe a new lease of life into it, and the result is utterly striking and absorbing.
Their output here is twice as long as their debut album, with songs rarely hitting the two minute mark on that project, and this longer run-time signals that while the band were feeling each other and their sound out a few years back, still treading quite softly and tentatively around the sonic territory they’d just begun exploring, they’ve now firmly planted their flag deep into the strange and rich soil of this new world, their footprints all over it from the penetrating exploration and “catacomb creeping” (“Laputa”) they’ve engaged in, leaving no nook or cranny unturned. Their findings have obviously been quite fruitful, with the majority of the tracks all over five minutes long, each an opus in itself, songs within songs, beautifully layered and dynamics and rhythms toyed with, and genres normally poles apart blended into each other, fitting as smoothly as puzzle pieces.
“Borderline With My Atoms” begins its life as a tranquil organism with subtle rimshots and softly plucked guitar, but it all soon takes on a fuller life, with singer Nai Palm’s gentle tempting to “melt into the other world” ushered in with grandiose sweeping pianos and ghost-like backing vocals half-way through. There’s also talk of demons and to “soak them in camomile”, in the fluid sounds of “Breathing Underwater“, good advice for the world they inhabit maybe? Only she could tell us.
In “Jekyll“, the opening bars are laced with soulful pianos and a warm vocal, as straightforward neo-soul as the band’s sound gets, but as the name suggests, a transformation is imminent, and the track then flies through a salsa-boss nova shuffle, a proggy wig-out, and free-form jazz, before slowing down again and finding some “sweet peace of mind”. “Atari” is another showcase of the group’s experimentalism, exploding into a blistering combo of drum ‘n’ bass and acid-jazz after it’s placid opening. It comes with warnings of being out “out over the edge of time”, but you get the impression that’s exactly where the band like to exist, free from the constraints of conventional reality.
There are fully formed thoughts on this sophomore effort from Hiatus Kaiyote, as opposed to the fragments of ideas that comprised their debut. While those were still quite captivating, and teased the group’s exciting potential, here, tracks like “The Lung”, with its expansive string arrangement and rich texture, “Molasses“, a somewhat ironic title for something that so seamlessly darts through rhythms and phrasings, or “Fingerprints“, a glimmering sultry slow-jam, are all evidence that this foursome put a lot into their brainstorming sessions, and have manifested that early potential in a truly impressive way.
This isn’t an album, so much as an odyssey, a journey to a different world, a different time, where the walls of convention have been knocked down. “Meet you in this future”, Nai Palm says in the rolling funk of “By Fire”. She might be waiting a little while yet, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Choose Your Weapon by Hiatus Kaiyote out now on Sony Music, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Oli Kuscher