Hiatus Kaiyote are one of those exceptional bands whose music exudes a certain brand of academic musical intelligence, while remaining ardently impassioned. Nai Palm (vocals/guitar), Paul Bender (bass), Perrin Moss (drums/percussion) and Simon Mavin (keyboards) navigate the power of music as both an expressive art form, and a practical medium with complicated technical elements. The Grammy-nominated four-piece released their 2013 debut album Tawk Tomahawk to international acclaim, and continue to travel a tapestry of sounds, cheekily self-described as “polyrhythmic gangsta shit”, in the hotly anticipated follow-up, Choose Your Weapon. Hiatus Kaiyote seamlessly blend the harmonic complexities of modern jazz with African and Latin rhythmic intricacies, all stitched together by Nai Palm’s distinctively R&B vocal delivery, whose charisma, tone and flawless ear draw comparisons to R&B icons Erykah Badu and Neneh Cherry, as well as her musical hero Stevie Wonder.
Choose Your Weapon is a 70-minute journey that feels both endless and fleeting. The otherworldly opening soundscape of Choose Your Weapon, with its erratic metre and heavy percussion, melts into recently debuted single Shaolin Monk Motherfunk. The opener perfectly reintroduces us to Nai Palm’s exquisite tone, range, effortless melismatic phrasing, while seamless tempo transitions are an indication of the band’s incredibly tight ensemble work. From here standout tracks appear left, right and centre.
Laputa is a short but sweet jazz trip with fluid synthesised accompaniment. Swamp Thing is an energetic and aggressive bass-led groove, whose impossibly smooth keys and eventual down-tempo groove become the introduction to the velvety, sensual, and vocal harmony-laden R&B bedroom romp Fingerprints. There is also Latin-jazz fusion on the infectious, piano-driven Jekyll, and the pacifying plucked guitar juxtaposed against quirky vocals of The Lung.
Breathing Underwater captures the perfect atmosphere from its molten outset, continuously rippling, hurtling, plunging or easing in a frenetic exploration of the world’s many forms of powerful love, weaving in and out of homo-, hetero- and polyphony. Choose Your Weapon reaches cinematic heights with Borderline With My Atoms and By Fire (first released in 2014), musical evolutions within themselves, which are driven infectiously forward by beautiful motivic developments that rely on the ensemble as a united talent.
Hiatus Kaiyote remain an almost venerated enigma among formally trained musicians, especially among the corridors of my alma mater, as they manage to explore a mosaic of influences with an academic and expressive aptitude that never even borderlines on becoming pretentious. It’s easy to see why international stars, including Questlove, Erykah Badu, Pharrell Williams and the eminent Prince, have gone out of their way to promote the band. Being praised, plugged and revered by a whole community of local and international musicians is arguably the most authentic marker of success.