Melbourne, Australia’s Hiatus Kaiyote describes its sound as “future soul,” which is vague, inert language, but it’s hard to blame the four-piece funk outfit. The band’s music is such a fast-moving, shape-shifting target, reducing it to a pithy genre descriptor is a fool’s errand. With its 2012 debut album Tawk Tomahawk, Hiatus Kaiyote introduced its polyrhythmic, polymorphic sound, which draws equally from neo-soul, ’70s jazz-funk, and Afrofuturist electronica, leaving the band with few peers (like latter-day Little Dragon and Janelle Monae on her weirder, spacier tracks). Tomahawk made for an intriguing opening salvo, but it’s portioned like an appetizer, with 10 tracks that barely surpass the half-hour mark.
By contrast, Hiatus Kaiyote’s sophomore release Choose Your Weapon is a smorgasbord, clocking in at nearly 70 minutes and brimming with ideas. None of Weapon’s 18 tracks is as accessible as Tomahawk’s Grammy-nominated single “Nakamarra,” the closest Hiatus Kaiyote has come to approximating a traditional pop song, but that’s what makes the album such a leap forward. The complex, angular song structures beckon only to evade, bolting in unexpected directions just as they seem to settle into a groove. In songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk,” ethereal introductions give way to rhythmic, meandering verses, playful non-hooks. Even the relatively straightforward “Molasses” bears a sharp left at its densely percussive bridge, which sounds like it was plucked out of another track. It’s cerebral stuff, but try as they might, the songs can’t wander into abstraction with singer-guitarist Nai Palm anchoring them with her full-throated gospel growl.
As intricate as Hiatus Kaiyote’s songs are on their surfaces, there’s even more to behold in their depths. Weapon is an atmosphere album that doesn’t fully bloom until it’s played through premium headphones, bringing its many layers and meticulous sonic details into focus. The mix is so busy, a new percussive element or plinking sound effect introduces itself with each spin. The kitchen-sink production can be overwhelming, but the more-is-more approach is often acquitted through flourishes like the heavily distorted horn blasts near the end of album highlight “The Lung.” At times though, the songs sink under their own weight and cry out for an editor’s ear. The lilting, Afrobeat-influenced “Atari” is compelling for the first four of its six minutes, then derails near the end with a chiptune reprise that’s fun, but overindulgent.
The entirety of Weapon could benefit from judicious trimming. A sensible first step would be to reduce or eliminate interludes and musical vignettes like the title track, which feel as much like padding now as when they overpopulated Tomahawk, making it play more like a deluxe-edition EP than a long-player. All four band members—Palm, bassist Paul Bender, keyboardist Simon Maven, and drummer Perrin Moss—share credits on every track, suggesting a collaborative songwriting process with perhaps too little veto power. But if Hiatus Kaiyote is going to err in a direction, better for it to put forth too much than too little.