The future of soul: Hiatus Kaiyote’s supernatural sophomore album

April 30, 2015, 9:20 p.m.

Some artists make great music under terrible names (see The Artist Formerly Known as Prince), and others make not so great music under fantastic names (see my eighth grade garage project, Butter Side Down). With the upcoming release of their second studio album “Choose Your Weapon,” Hiatus Kaiyote hit the nail on the head, pairing an unbeatable moniker with an unrivaled sound.

The Australian quartet's second studio album is an elevation of what they call "future soul." (Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment)
The Australian quartet’s second studio album is an elevation of what they call “future soul.” (Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment)

As leaders and taste-makers in the realm of “future soul,” Hiatus Kaiyote are propelling the genre, and I for one am thankful. What they’re making is refreshingly new, a marriage of acoustic and electronic music that clicks from top to bottom. It’s hard to describe on paper — and in all honesty begs to be heard — but it’s my job to try, so here it goes: supernatural neo-soul R&B with hip-hop and electronic influences, embellished with ambient production and synths, all delivered with tight, danceable grooves and smooth vocals. But if that description doesn’t do anything for you, their website is subtitled “Multi-Dimensional Polyrhythmic Gangster Shit,” and that seems accurate to me.

Whatever you call it, Hiatus Kaiyote have developed an accessible yet idiosyncratic sound full of unpredictable rhythms and experimental textures. In the vein of Flying Lotus and Thundercat, they’ve captured a cosmic vibe through the heavy use of progressive rhythmic accents and ambient samples. It’s the kind of music that you can easily groove to (after all, if I can dance to it, anyone can), but if you start counting beats you might get lost before two bars have gone by.

The album opens with a brief eponymous track of synths and samples, with singer/guitarist Nai Palm softly instructing you to “choose your weapon,” instantly triggering memories of Nintendo-fueled days of gaming and adventure. The next track, the fantastically titled “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk,” opens with Rhodes keys and ambient guitar texturing before flipping through a series of grooves, moving elegantly between a straightforward gallop, traditional swing, understated Afro-Cuban and Dilla-esque beat stuttering. “Borderline With My Atoms” opens with gasping beat breaks, and swells as Nai Palm’s vocals dance over unison band hits and varied grooves, eventually reaching an emphatic, speaker-shaking release.

(Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment)
(Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment)

There’s also an underlying sense of playfulness born from the video game-inspired chiptune elements scattered throughout the album (see the aptly titled “Atari”) and the supernatural storytelling nature of some of Nai Palm’s lyrics. Over a heavy, stumbling beat on “Swamp Thing,” she sings, “A willow wisp, a rum soaked ritual / Ravenous, it’s cold stare is habitual / Send a message with fire smoldering across the lily pad / Saffron tears, the sweetest you ever had.” And don’t forget the vibrant album artwork featuring a vicious fire-wielding baboon, who’s subtly compelling you to choose your weapon wisely.

My favorite tracks are the soothing neo-soul “Fingerprints,” the impassioned and jarring “Molasses” and the driving, synth-fueled “By Fire,” the latter two having been released last December on a three track EP. But you really can’t go wrong with this album. Whether it’s the colorful sonic sketches (like the 8-bit inspired “Only Time All the Time / Making Friends With the Studio Owl,” in which Nai Palm seemingly improvises a vocal riff to accompany an owl’s coo) or the groove flipping Kaiyote standards, there’s enough here for fans new and old to love. Hiatus Kaiyote may still be in the process of developing their self-proclaimed “future soul,” but they’re already years ahead of the game.

“Choose Your Weapon” will be released by Sony Music Entertainment on Monday, May 4.

Contact Benjamin Sorensen at bscoren ‘at’

Benjamin Sorensen covers jazz for the Arts & Life section of the Stanford Daily. He is a junior from Stanford, California studying political science with interests in Chinese and music. He enjoys playing guitar, talking about music, and wishing he could sing. Contact him at bcsoren ‘at’

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