I find myself at a loss for words when I confront the music of Hiatus Kaiyote. Or rather, the allure of words fail to pique my interest. Consistently, I’m seduced by Melbourne, Australia’s experimental soul outfit expressly because they grant my mind such breadth, such freedom, the opportunity to relinquish the urge to make literal sense of what I’m hearing. And I cherish the four-piece band’s newly released full-length Choose Your Weapon dearly, frighteningly so, for this very reason. But still, I can’t shake a stirring sense of curiosity: How is this band not the biggest thing in music right now? The Pluto Moons‘ Zachary Levine-Caleb thinks it’s because Choose Your Weapon “doesn’t give a shit about the American Rock agenda” and because the group is often pigeonholed as a ” jam band,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.
For better or worse, Hiatus Kaiyote have evaded widespread critical reception. It’s bloody absurd, but half of Pitchfork‘s HK coverage is a result of nothing other than my own fandom. And I don’t even write for them. Google search “Hiatus Kaiyote” and “Pitchfork” and the second hit will be a feature published by the juggernaut music blog, “The Year In Music 2014: Contributor’s Top 10’s.” My personal contribution as an intern was to place their spectacular EP cut “Molasses” at the top of the tracks list (the first Google hit is another best of list from 2012). Consequence of Sound won’t touch ’em. Stereogum praises Chance the Rapper’s “Fingerprints”-sampling “Hiatus” over the actual album it’s sourced from. Spin’s Rachel Brodsky, their only writer on staff to take the plunge, is at such a loss to describe HK’s sound that she spends the majority of her interview maneuvering the conversation toward politics and food.
Hiatus Kaiyote craft their artistry from a genuine love of music, all else falls to the wayside. And it’s received with equal fervor, predominantly from those who share their devotion for organized sound. I know firsthand that HK have influenced a wide range of some of my favorite artists. And since so many critics have worked to evade Choose Your Weapon, it seemed appropriate–no, necessary–to document how real-life musicians engaged with this 18-track behemoth of an album, how they heard the music. The responses collected were inspiring, illuminating, and oddly intimate. In compiling this feature I was struck by a certain coherence from these ten submission, seemingly extracted from my own unarticulated thoughts, a desire to express how this music makes one feel as opposed to how it might actually sound.
1. MANGELWURZEL, JAALA frontwoman/guitarist Cosima Jaala on "The Lung":
"The Lung" is my favourite song on Choose Your Weapon. Up until recently it was called "Coolabah," which is a type of beautiful Australian eucalyptus. Unfortunately some marketing genius used 'Coolabah' to brand their disgusting blend of nasty box wine/piss, and so I don't blame Nai for wanting to change the name. When I listen to "The Lung" I feel a cooling sensation enter my choccy bum, it rises into a little oily and dank socket in my chest where my tiny heart lives. Now usually if that happened I would feel concerned like a person about to die would feel concerned but I KNOW everything is fine because I am listening to HK's new album and by doing so I have opened a magical portal to infinite realms of majestic beauty. It's around the midway mark usually when the song really starts to take hold of me: I'm naked in the garden, I'm kissing little ants dicks, I can't remember the names of my enemies.... Bliss engulfs my mortal flesh and "it's aaaaaall good" and I can't help but think, Holy shit the world is gonna kiss soo many ant dicks over this gnarly bullshit.
2. Solo artist and music producer TOULOUSE on "Laputa":
In this world of mumblin’ stumblin’ angular grooves and percolating streams of deep honey-laden synths, robotic sonic butterflies lazily glide across the stereo. An electronic land of Oz comfortably comes to life while Nai, of the land down under, wickedly casts a spell that takes all of two minutes and 25 seconds to invoke and lead me into a trance throughout the rest of the album. Whoever Mr. Laputa is, Nai has attributed him with enough adjectives to usurp the Dos Equis gentleman as the Most Interesting Man on Earth…your next spirit guide.
3. Rapper-producer ENxVE the Nameless Vagrant on "Shaolin Monk Motherfunk":
As the first full-length song on Choose Your Weapon, "Shaolin Monk Motherfunk" is a moment outside of time. You've stumbled upon an oasis of sound. A portal to seductive unknowns appears before you, colorful and impermanent. From it, a temptress' outreached hand beckons you, her bioluminescence mapping the energies of planes converging. You hear her mischievous challenge, "So drop into this...," knowing she offers the journey, but has no fear of traversing the continuum herself. Such is the nature of Hiatus' arrangement and genre-bending style: a take-it-or-leave-it attitude oozing with enigmatic familiarity. Before you know where you are, you've already been here, and the response is l'esprit de l'escalier. So just go with it.
4. Vocalist and producer artist Abby Diamond on "Molasses":
God, Nai Palm is just a freaking beast. What wins me over about the second to last track on Choose Your Weapon, “Molasses,” is how her vocals get the chance to completely take over. After a nostalgic intro highlighting Nai’s soft romantic melodies, the beat drops into this deep pocket funky situation, alternating between simple and complicated rhythms, which she traces with her voice. The effect is at once energizing and blissfully intoxicating. With its downright catchy vocals, bright keys and old school drum feels, this psychedelic exploration is definitely the most pop accessible track on the album. And there’s something almost Motown about it… what do you think? Slip into something sexy and give this one a listen.
5. The Pluto Moons bassist/vocalist, Zachary Levine-Caleb, on "Laputa":
Sliced breath, glitching and reversing. A swelling sweep of electric dust. Nai Palm chooses her weapon: “Graphite to Paper.” She guides me confidently through a warm swamp of analog synth jelly. Space insects hiss and bleep and buzz in my perimeter. I’ve never quite been to a world like this before but I know shit is about to get real when that drunken, halftime groove hits. Everything is starting to make sense…. A couple bars later, I start to feel my lips and eyes slowly contorting into a stage-420 StankFace. Nai Palm reaches the magic note. I’m soaring. What the fuck is “Laputa?” Google it. Ah, I was on a flying Island.
6. Carbon Mirage drummer Ricky Petraglia on "By Fire":
There are many great tracks worthy to write about on Choose Your Weapon, but I’ve landed on "By Fire." These are some amazing musicians really trying to raise the bar--nobody sounds like them. The album is beautifully orchestrated, like a movie, and at times, it's very operatic. The track starts off intense, the groove has you wondering where on earth they’re feeling the bass hits, and when you finally have it BAM BAM (Choke), they bust into a choir. The band is rhythmically locked in, a complicated weaving of patterns, but they never step on each other. Floating above it all, Nai Palm remains unphased, despite the stuttering beats beneath her.
7. Solo artist and YUGEN guitarist Micah Jasper on "The Lung":
In the same way I can see D’Angelo stirring a smoking pot of frogs, I feel like Nai Palm is some type of sorceress. This song is perfectly dirty. It’s really young. It makes me wanna take karate really bad. There's super deep strings and washy, designy stuff in the background while Perrin’s drums crunch in your face. What a solid example of how soul can shine though a track without it being the most pristine thing recorded--how some lo-fi adds a shitload of character to their sound and makes me think about mine similarly.
8. GREAT TIME frontwoman Jill Ryan on "Borderline With My Atoms":
Sometimes it’s not all about the technicality or intensity of the music. It’s about the simple, meaningful stuff: one note, one word, one sigh--that’s what does the most for me. The first time I listened to Choose Your Weapon, I was immediately drawn to the song “Borderline with My Atoms.” Nai Palm’s phrasing is gentle yet powerful. When I heard her sing the word “melt” twice within the first minute of the song, it made me cry. That one simple word moved me to tears. The rest of the album is filled with these special moments, not to detract from the band’s amazing technicality and intensity.
9. Drama Section bassist Cory Todd on "Fingerprints":
Any given Hiatus Kaiyote track sends you through a kaleidoscope of modern jazz harmonies, off-kilter “Dilla” beats, and soulful vocals—the music is described as “neo soul,” but influences here range from the aforementioned Jay Dee-style hip-hop to Afro-Cuban music. You’d be an idiot to not call it creative. My favorite HK tracks are the ones where the band exercises a little compositional restraint. On “Breathing Underwater,” we meditate over what is essentially a verse and a phrase-long chorus. Most of “Swamp Thing” is one bass line, with an interspersed tutti riff. “Fingerprints” is probably my favorite: bassist Paul Bender takes us to heaven while vocalist Nai Palm displays a measure of restraint (at least in the first verse). Much less melisma, much more melody. This band likes to be flashy—my favorite moments from them are when they aren’t.
10. altopalo guitarist Mike Haldeman on "The Lung":
Thinking back to my first time listening through Choose Your Weapon, I remember feeling a bit blown out by the energy and density of the first three quarters of the record (particularly following the consecutive bangers “By Fire” and “Atari”). “The Lung” falls at what I think is a critical moment in the record’s progression: the shade and afterglow in the wake of a block of the band’s hardest-hitting tracks. In this piece, the band never departs harmonically from its waltzesque and hypnotic four-chord loop. The work nevertheless develops, in part by way of thickening layers of textures: synthesizers, found sounds, strings…oh my god the strings… The emergence of a crunchy and driven percussion and drum arrangement pulls the piece from its hesitant or even bashful beginnings toward a pounding apex. “The Lung” is a breath between the lightning bolts and laser beams of Choose Your Weapon, showcasing HK’s capacity for simplicity and patience.