Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
I first got turned on to Hiatus Kaiyote two years ago when their track Nakamarra, off of their debut album Tawk Tomahawk, was nominated alongside Snarky Puppy’s Something for a Best R&B Performance Grammy. After scouring their YouTube page, I immediately went to purchase the album and was completely blown away. Their unique sound was unlike anything I had heard before, and I wanted to hear more. Hiatus Kaiyote describes their sound as “Multi-Dimensional Polyrhythmic Gangster Shit” and I would say that is a pretty accurate description, if you feel the need to throw a label on it.
I was curious if the follow-up record, released in May of this year, would be able to hold its own against their dynamic first effort, but Choose Your Weapon exceeded my enormously high expectations and secured my pick for Album of the Year. Choose Your Weapon is not an album that you throw into a party playlist to shuffle. At 18 tracks and almost 70 minutes, it is a complete musical experience that is best absorbed in one sitting if you can swing it.
From the title track, Choose Your Weapon, Hiatus Kaiyote builds, deconstructs, swings, weaves, and wanders through deep grooves and complex arrangements. Vocalist and guitarist Nai Palm leads the pack with vocals that are sometimes soft and haunting and other times powerful and driving. The arrangements seem to be build around her vocal lines, and when she breaks into a scat, the band follows her every syncopation.
It is clear that each member of Hiatus Kaiyote brings their own diverse musical inspirations to the table to create a genre blending sound that morphs into something new as soon as you think you have it figured out. In the albums first full track, Shaolin Monk Motherfunk, bassist Paul Bender brings the jazz with a groovy walking bass line while drummer Perrin Moss swings on drums. The vintage rhythm feel is a surprising contrast to Simon Mavin’s dancing synth fills, and that theme of contrast continues throughout the record.
With flavors of hip-hop and soul shining through on Borderline with my Atoms and Swamp Thing, futuristic prog rhythms in Laputa and Atari, Choose Your Weapon can feel heavy and difficult to follow, but just when you begin to think you need a break to let your brain catch up to all of the time changes, the band drops into a mellow, buttery track like Fingerprints, with a heavy back beat laying under Mavin’s gospel tinged keyboard work and Nai Palm’s soulful vocals. Jekyll is another refreshing track that balances intricate time-changes with rolling soul grooves.
It was recently announced that Choose Your Weapon’s Stevie Wonder inspired track Breathing Underwater was nominated for a Best R&B Performance Grammy. Band leader Nai Palm often cites Stevie Wonder as her foremost musical hero, and his influence is clear in the song’s heavy synth bass lines, intricate vocal riffs, and key changes.
The record closes with two of the strongest tracks, Molasses and Building a Ladder. Taking a step back and look at the album as a whole, Choose Your Weapon is a gigantic musical undertaking that could easily feel like a try-hard effort, but the members of Hiatus Kaiyote have these tunes seeping out of their pores, and as complex, intricate and elaborate as this project is, it still feels natural and authentic, which is why Choose Your Weapon gets my vote for Album of the Year.