Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon (Album Review)

‘Each song has it’s own habitat within it’s own section, but the end of a song might have it’s own different energy. Music is there to enhance your emotional experiences, and if it’s multilayered then people can find different avenues to connect to it.’ – Nai Palm.

There’s been plenty of stylistic comparisons made to Flying Lotus, J Dilla, Yesterday’s New Quintet, the influences of Erykah Badu and Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, and the African and Latin rhythms incorporated into their sonic tapestry. ‘Polyrhythmic gangsta shit’ is one tongue-in-cheek description by the band . But it’s just as much philosophy and musical empathy that directs their sound as musical influences. Nai’s statement perfectly captures that, with the song ‘By Fire’ (first released December 2014 as a 3 track teaser EP) a standout example. The opening groove is a recurring motif that’s expanded upon as the song progresses, with dynamic and melodic additions that still quote from the song intro.

The opening interlude, ‘Choose Your Weapon’, is a soundscape led with synth and rhodes chords, ‘Ruff Draft’ era Dilla style heavily swung drums, and leads perfectly into the opening single ‘Shaolin Monk Motherfunk’. It’s about here that you realise that the tag Neo-Soul has been left behind, even more so than their debut, and never really fit anyway. And it keeps coming, with the standout songs ‘Borderline With My Atoms’ and ‘Breathing Underwater’.

‘Swamp Thing’ has a distorted, bass heavy groove, and is the most abstract hip-hop like track. Once it moves back from a jazz interlude to the vocal refrain ‘Forever..’ and the instruments fade out, it matches the end tempo straight into the smooth rnb groove of Fingerprints. Energies combining, and being their own entity. Or ‘Jekyll’, the next in line, which at 1.47 suddenly introduces a piano line sans other instruments, and goes into a latin rhythm.

Groove and key changes are deftly handled with dynamic sensitivity, along with well placed moments of silence, so when each song unfolds, you just think, of course. What other way would it be done? It’s unarguably forward thinking future soul.

Everything is more adventurous, more layered, more ambitious, yet more refined, and more of an identifiable sound they own. The time touring and jamming over the last 2 years shows in the level of musical trust and empathy towards each other. It also shows in the average track length as – interludes aside – each song is between 5 -6 minutes. The production value compared to their debut, ‘Tawk Tomahawk’ hasn’t lost their earthy sound, just compliments it. There’s plenty of subtlety, and you can hear it all. Just probably not the first time, so enjoy those repeated listens. This is an album in the truest sense, where each song is placed just so, and selecting random tracks or shuffle mode disrupts it as a listening experience. ‘Choose Your Weapon’ is getting a 2LP 180gram vinyl release in July 2015, and the track-list is exactly the same as CD / Digital.

I think it’s every bit important of an album as ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is, in todays commercially driven music landscape. For different reasons and results, the intent is still the same. Being true to self, irrespective of external expectations, and harmonically and stylistically adventurous. ‘Choose Your Weapon’ is already a contender for my album of the year for 2015.

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