AUSTRALIA: Tawk Tomahawk - Hiatus Kaiyote
Updated: Jan 20
Odd, quirky, and with a futuristic feel, Tawk Tomahawk presents experimentation and innovation
I can’t deny that this is an unusual album. I struggled to get an angle on it, despite the fact that I liked it very much. Hiatus Kaiyote are an unusual bunch of people, eccentric, one might say, especially considering their band name and the name of their album, and their music reflects that eccentricity. Their music is often described as ‘future soul’, which gives you an idea of what they’re like. Not in terms of what their music actually sounds like. I mean, what the hell is future soul supposed to be? No, it gives you a sense that these guys are musically eclectic, with songs that incorporate genres such as ambient music (including electronica selvatica), rock, psychedelia, lounge music, and jazz, and that’s all in an album that’s just 35 minutes long. In some ways. I think it works against the album as well as helping it. At times the changes of genres and the lack of an identifiable genre can make it feel like a mess, but overall, their approach marks them out from the crowd, and they have created a musically interesting album that works as a piece of music. There is a lot in there, and most of it is good.
“At its best it is transcendent, creating a sound that is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard really, and when it is less successful it sounds like experimentation for experimentation’s sake, not quite revealing hidden depths to the music but still remaining listenable.”
Perhaps the best song on the album is Nakamarra, a slow and jazzy number that benefits greatly from both nifty keyboard playing and the powerful and soulful vocals from the lead singer, Nai Palm (real name Naomi Saalfield). This is one of their most coherent and therefore most listenable songs out of the context of the album, and it is also the version of that song they performed with Q-Tip that got them nominated for a Grammy. I like both versions of the song, though I prefer the one without Q-Tip. That one has a rap towards the latter half, which I don’t think added much, but it certainly did not detract from the song either.
It wouldn’t be a criticism to state that the album works very well as a whole, but when listened to as individual songs, it is less successful. There are songs like Leap Frog, Ocelot, Boom Child and Sphinx Gate, all of which are under two minutes long, that feel like palate cleanser songs between the meatier tracks like Mobius Streak, Malika or Nakamarra. As such, they add to the texture of the album, but they are not really listenable in the traditional sense. I can’t imagine anyone saying their favourite song on the album is Ocelot or Sphinx Gate, but they add a musical texture to the album. The album is adventurous, and it experiments throughout. At its best it is transcendent, creating a sound that is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard really, and when it is less successful it sounds like experimentation for experimentation’s sake, not quite revealing hidden depths to the music but still remaining listenable. Mobius Streak is probably the song that encapsulates both sides of this. The first half of the song is genuinely brilliant, reaching those transcendent highs I spoke of, but the latter half drags on a bit too long, adds too many unusual backing vocals, and then the magic is somewhat lost. It isn’t bad or anything – far from it – but it does hamper the song as a whole.
All in all, Tawk Tomahawk by Hiatus Kaiyote is an enjoyable oddity. At times it can appear that the album is neither fish nor fowl, but at others it’s a technically impressive, entertaining and pleasant mix of genres. The mix of shorter, instrumental songs with longer, more radio-friendly efforts is successful for the most part, and their intriguing style marks them out from the crowd.