Album Review: Hiatus Kaiyote, “Choose Your Weapon”

Hiatus Kaiyote Choose Your Weapon
(Sony – May 1, 2015)
(Alternative, Soul)
Review by Brandon Foster

Hiatus Kaiyote list as a “future soul” band by most mainstream services, but that might be limiting them unfairly. According to their website, they describe their music more as “Multi-Dimensional, Polyrhythmic Gangster Shit”. Truth be told, that is really the only way to describe the musicians from Melbourne, Australia. In more tame terms, one could call them a fusion combo band. The group is a gumbo pot of sound. Hiatus Kaiyote have been around since 2011, but still seem to be an enigma. When they released their debut album Tawk Tomahawk, they dropped it and then faded away. But the interest was still there for more material. Last year, they came back to life releasing their By Fire EP. And now, four years after their debut, they release their sophomore effort Choose Your Weapon. While Tawk Tomahawk played in the realm of “neo” soul with slight experimentation, Choose Your Weapon flips the ratio, erring squarely on the side of deliriously odd and bafflingly good. Lead vocalist Nai Palm and the rest of the band take us on a musical roller coaster, the result – a top contender for album of the year.

The album opens up with the album titled intro. It sounds like the THX intro with airy synths and then breaks into a soundtrack from the Super Nintendo game “Samurai Showdown” or the first “Mortal Kombat.” It fades out quickly and into the best song title of the last decade, “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk.” The first few moments of the song, you hear a plethora of euphoric beautiful sounds, and then the beat drops to this jazzy instrumental with Palm’s strong vocals soaring overhead. While you are just getting adjusted to the beat, it completely changes up on you with the pace of the drums. We get jazz, then we get sort of this reggae ting going on, and then out of nowhere, it sounds like something that Flying Lotus will have his fingerprints all over. This pattern of one-two-what the hell is consistently amazing and strange. The next song “Laputa” is based off of animator’s Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Laputa: Castle in the Sky.” Simon Mavin’s synthesizer is the star of the show as it sets the groove off. “Creations Part One” is an interlude that sets up perfectly to the next track “Borderline with My Atoms”. “Borderline with My Atoms” can be classified as weird as hell to some people, but it is not weird to Palm. Warning: you may not understand a damn thing she is talking about, but the affliction in her voice gives you an idea you can feel. She ends the second verse, “A ripe submergence of the highest order, no borders” That describes the album as there really are no borders of expression permeating through the LP. While the subject matter is hard to decipher, this is probably the most neo-soul sounding song on the project.

As if afraid to have any hint of bounded space, “Breathing Underwater” is the album’s first romantic track. Palm’s lyrics are intricate: moisture in plants, precipitation, and even animals are all extended metaphors for a boundless love. Perrin Moss’s drums are slight, but convey an ocean.

And the ocean swells on right into “Swamp Thing.” Paul Bender provides funky bass licks with Mavin’s synthesizer resting right below it. Like other tracks on the album, the melody can change at any minute. This tracks sounds like new age Parliament Funkadelic especially when the chorus hits. “Fingerprints” come up next and oh my, this is so groovy. You can tell this is a very personal song for Palm as it sounds more autobiographical than any track to come up in the album. The outro contains an allusion to the story of the Phoenix – the protagonist throughout the song. Track number 10“Jekyll,” is a jazz, afro-pop, and funk song all mixed into one which finds the band almost hitting a crazy equilibrium where each musician gets a chance to shine.

Choose Your Weapon has a video game presence to it. “Prince Midikid” has this feel to it like you are about to face the final boss on a video game as you enter a long hallway leading to your ultimate foe. Enter “Atari.” “Atari” sounds like a soundtrack to an Atari game if Atari had a system in 2015. Palm’s lyricism serves as more of a guide for the track as the other musicians are the stars of the track. This is the climax of the album, unified and effortless.

“By Fire” is the next track and the beginning sounds like an eargasm extension of “Atari” with Mavin’s synthesizers a giant with Palm’s voice resting right on top. Then Palm breaks out in these opera screams over chaotic instrumentals and then the beats drops into a techno-funk fused track.

The last two tracks serve as a true and great closing for a journey of an album. “Molasses” deals with all the problems that life throws at us. For a song so pessimistic, it remains hopeful if only in tone. Track number 18 “Building a Ladder” contrasts “Molasses” and deals with more with freeing the mind from the rut of its counterpart. It is only accompanied by a piano and Palm for the first 2 minutes and then the rest of the band joins in in a minimalistic send-off.

Hiatus Kaiyote is not only a highlight of the year. It is a nominee for best album of the year so far. There has not been an album released in the past 6 months that is so free and effortless. They throw a lot of things at you and give you so many moods in just one song. Look at the album cover. It looks like it is an ode to another fusion band popular in the 70s named Mandrill. Actually, these guys might be the new age Mandrill. And you can’t hand out that title easily. Palm is setting herself up to be something of a special vocalist. Get the album. I have no more to say.

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