Hiatus Kaiyote: Tawk Tomahawk

by Reid Parler on April 28, 2015

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As a representative of Australia’s underground music scene, Hiatus Kaiyote has described itself as “Multi-dimensional Polyrhythmic Gangster Shit.”[1] Fronted by the eccentric singer and guitarist known as Nai Palm, the band has been garnering well deserved critical acclaim, and their 2012 debut album Tawk Tomahawk provides plenty of reasons why. The quartet of Melbourne natives have gained plenty of recognition from big names such as Questlove, David Byrne, and Erykah Badu.[2] The album itself is a thirty five minute journey through a blend of jazz, soul, hip-hop, with some psychedelic electronic tendencies thrown in for good measure. Although the album may lack improvisation, the way the tracks weave and blend effortlessly through these different genres grips the listener’s interest throughout the entirety of the album.

The sheer variety this album encompasses is stunning. It moves between dark and haunting tracks, through smooth instrumentals, and even light hearted, somewhat poppy numbers. The album’s opener “Mobius Streak”, with its melancholy intro, leaves the listener with an uneasy feeling until they are saved by bassist Paul Bender who establishes a tight groove. The other band members are then able to fit around one another to make this track come to life. The band’s use of electronics to provide a wall of sound is similar to fellow Australian artist Tame Impala. This track crescendos all the way until the end and then slips into the smooth jazz track “The World It Softly Lulls” which makes excellent use of latin sensibilities and rhythms. The singing on this album is provoking as well. Nai Palm manages to sing powerfully while remaining mysterious with her smoky voice; the singer’s way of articulating and stressing certain syllables creates a disjointed effect, yet the phrasing provides a smooth result.

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Towards the middle of the album, as the track “Malika” fades out the listener is overcome with the bombastic drumming of the song “Ocelot.” Starting out in a seemingly simple meter the track dramatically shifts to a compound feel. This transition is so tight it’s almost disorientating, however the track is less than two minutes long. Out of the eleven tracks on the album, five of them are less than two minutes. These tracks, while a bit underdeveloped, are really there to serve as bridges between the longer tracks and to improve the overall cohesion of the album. The album’s ending tracks are two versions of their most popular song “Nakamarra” which are almost identical except the last track features a rap verse by the artist Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. The latter was actually nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Performance.[3]

Seeing as Australia does not have a tradition in this style of music, it provides an interesting insight into the debate of cultural appropriation. When asked if she felt she was doing something un-Australian, Nai Palm answered, “That’s just it. Aside from indigenous culture here there is no identity, so there’s no real musical lineage that you have to adhere to. The natural expression of Australian culture is a fusion of everything. I don’t feel we’re alone in that.”2

[1] Bailey, Rachel. “Hiatus Kaiyote: The Best of What’s Next.” Pastemagazine.com. Paste Magazine, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

[2] Todd, Bella. “Premiere: Listen to Hiatus Kaiyote.” Hiatus Kaiyote Premieres New ‘By Fire’ EP. Red Bull, 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

[3] “Hiatus Kaiyote.” Facebook. Flying Buddha/Sony Music, 9 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick J May 1, 2015 at 7:08 am

Hiatus Kaiyote is one of my favorite bands right now and I really enjoyed this review. Spot on about their sound as a whole but I wish there was a little bit more on there influences. The rhythm tracks on the album are clearly RnB and soulquarian influenced, maybe you could add a little bit about that. Also, it seems like Australia is acting like some sort of melting pot of musical influence, maybe you could go a little deeper into that. I love the point you make about tame impala and the wall of sound. Great read, thanks.

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Tyler Fisher April 30, 2015 at 6:22 pm

A really well written review, I like how it isn’t all just praise as well. The inclusion of sources that you have is good, you include all of the interesting bits of information that have impact on the way the album sounds and provide references to how the sounds were inspired and what they resemble. I agree with you that this album is awesome.

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Elijah Brown April 30, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Nice article. One the whole I found this quite interesting and informative of what Hiatus Kaiyote is about. It does a great job of describing the bands style and what makes them unique. I did however want to hear more about The World It Softly Lulls. From what I read, it seems jazz isn’t Hiatus Kaiyote’s go-to genre of choice, so I wanted to know more about that and any other jazz they had to offer. It would be cool to see how their style may be influenced in any way by jazz. However, having said that, in terms of learning about new music that interests me, this was awesome.

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Matthew Chase April 30, 2015 at 1:13 pm

In the Jazz world at least, Americans are often accused of being overly concerned with the music of the past, while many see Europe as on the forefront of musical innovation. I for one am guilty of listening almost exclusively to music that was recorded many years ago. For that reason I appreciate your glowing review of a band I would otherwise have never checked out. I think Nai Palm’s comment about the non-identity of Australian culture is especially interesting. Without being tied to a specific tradition, she is free to create a “fusion of everything”. In Europe, despite strong cultural identity, artists are freer to create musical “fusions” because they are not tied to a specific notion of Jazz’s identity. American musicians are also creating numberless fusions, but not many that are accepted within the realm of “Jazz”. Overall its nice to incorporate Australia into this conversation and to imagine what type of musical cultures might incubating there as we speak.

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