Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon review
Paul Bender, the bassist with Melbourne’s “future soul” band Hiatus Kaiyote, describes his band’s second album Choose Your Weapon as a “huge, massive, complex puzzle”. He’s not far wrong. Over 18 tracks and 70 minutes, the four-piece touch upon modern jazz, polyrhythmic time structures, labyrinthine explorations of 1970s funk, scat-singing, samba, West African soul, pastoral prog rock in the style of Weather Report and Gentle Giant, sprawling electric fusion and elemental rhythms. Whether or not you want to unlock its mysteries is up to you.
In some places (Prince Minikid, the florid and ever-changing Atari) it feels like all those strange electronic flourishes that artists such as Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder (notably on Innervisions) use to fill the spaces between the chart-topping hits, and casually bewitch their fans. In others (the single Breathing Underwater) this is the sort of psychedelic mesmerising adventure land populated by similar exploratory jazz fusion artists such as Annette Peacock and Erykah Badu.
Much of this is down to the group’s main life force, Nai Palm (the stage name of Naomi Saalfield, whose voice and guitar twist and turn, swoop, dart and flutter through a bewildering array of supple melodies and counter-counter-harmonics and fitful key changes.
Just as you feel the group have settled into a groove, just for a second, off they spin and spiral into 20 others. Listening to Choose Your Weapon can hover between delirium and frustration, delight and outright annoyance, often in the very same beat. A song like the frantic Swamp Thing, with its layers of intricate piano notes and funked-out bass, moves on too fast for pause but then … bam! The mellow Fingerprints takes the mood somewhere else entirely.
This is a love letter to the whole of nature, a self-indulgent trip to the other side of consciousness, an experience you have to fully immerse yourself in to appreciate. And the meanings behind the songs are as varied and spatial as the music itself.
Breathing Underwater is a homage to the “different examples of love and compassion in the world that are beyond the limitation of romance”, says Palm. The singer uses imagery like the Jericho rose to depict this – an African resurrection plant that can survive dormant without water for more than a century, but blooms within minutes after rain.
Other tracks have equally as exotic roots. Jekyll, featuring some virtuoso free jazz percussion from the drummer, Perrin Moss, and typically disorienting fills from the synthesiser-player, Simon Mavin, flusters and flurries, searching for some peace of mind. The trippy funk-soul throwback, Borderline With My Atoms, feels like the band is channelling 30 or 40 years of soul into a six-minute song.
The multi-instrumentalist/composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson lends his one-man orchestra to the expansive interlude The Lung. Molasses is musical treacle. Shaolin Monk Motherfunk is some weird-shit boogie. Only Time All the Time: Making Friends With Studio Owl is self-explanatory.
This album is the follow-up to Tawk Tomahawk, the 2013 debut which spawned the Q-Tip collaboration Nakamarra, the song that caused Hiatus Kaiyote to become the first ever Australian act to be nominated for an R&B Grammy. That one was recorded after the band had been together for six months. This one was put together after two world tours, and written everywhere.
Goddess alone knows what they’re going to be like after another five years.
Have you given Hiatus Kaiyote’s new one a spin? Let us know what you think below!