What separates Studio Ghibli films from its animated competition is its sense of magic. Magical in their detailed and surreal utopias – ones that are populated with inventive characters, mythical beings and will-o’-the-wisps – but also how they glow of traditions, complex storytelling, morals and politics. Not only are the Melbourne Future Soul/Acid Jazz quartet Hiatus Kaiyote passionate about the work of Hayao Miyazaki’s studio and Japanese artistry as a whole, their second album Choose Your Weapon shares its ambitious and imaginative mentality.
In essence, ‘Laputa’ and ‘Prince Minikid’ are the most obvious tributes to the Japanese studio that is currently in the midst of a hiatus. ‘Laputa’ is a reference to the floating Gulliver’s Travels influenced-island in the 1986 film Castles In The Sky. Hiatus Kaiyote’s lyrics are extremely complimentary about its director Miyazaki, labelling him a “teacher”, “dreamer” and “talisman.” They place vocalist Nai Palm inside the fictional animated world, but also reflect her disappointment that one of her cherished childhood muses is on the brink of termination. Palm exhibits the same punctured adolescent reminiscence on ‘Atari’, in which she uses the infamous bankruptcy of the computer console as a metaphor for the fragility of memories. Additionally, she expresses her fascination with the way it allowed gamers to enter magical environments. ‘Prince Minikid’ is more light-hearted and its name is a pun on Studio Ghibili’s ‘Princess Mononoke’ yet it creates a fictional character of its own. Written in a quirky manner, it’s based on a fruit bat that is tiny and friendly, yet is sneakily advantageous in finding food.
Within the multi-layered compositions of adventurous drums, rhythm guitar, Hammond organ and impulsive time signatures, synthetic sounds surface cautiously in their ritualistic forests like the aforementioned will-o’-the-wisps in anime cinema – another more mainstream example of the ghost-like creatures would notably be in Pixar’s Brave.
Themes about the importance of tradition that dominate Japanese lifestyles are applied graciously and patriotically to Hiatus Kiayote’s Australian roots – a country that Palm has deemed “beautiful” in interviews – as they attempt to oppose the pattern of singers idolising foreign places. ‘By Fire’ and ‘Bordered With Atoms’ are a joint biographical story about the journey of an arrowhead; beginning with an Aboriginal maker, followed by Nai Palm’s accidental possession and ending up in the lap of an Apache shopkeeper. Furthermore, ‘The Lung’ embraces Australia’s nature and name-drops a native tree called Eucalyptus Coolabah. This is just the first of an encyclopedia of biology and botany-related wisdom that blooms throughout the album’s landscape. It is so intellectual, scholarly and erudite that it could be integrated into science lessons.
Fans already familiar with Nai Palm’s voice will know it’s just as spiritually impassioned and identically similar in characteristics to Beate S. Lech (Beady Belle) and Yukimi Nagano (Little Dragon.) The lush electric soul tendencies that make Nagano’s band so effortlessly cool exist on Hiatus Kaiyote’s Choose your Weapon, but rather than place funk in the mix like the Swedes, the Australians incorporate the gleeful Hammond blues of confessed hero Stevie Wonder.
Although the 18-track compilation is a tad too long – the last few tracks don’t necessarily add to anything unique – the quality remains at a high standard and constantly willing to experiment with all aspects of their set-up. The unpredictable shape-shifting sometimes makes it hard to pinpoint exactly how many genres can exist within one track as they adhere to their borderless philosophy of “being an advocate of the possibility of anything.”
Within the neo-soul elegance, there is dinner jazz piano (‘Swamp Thing’), Afrobeat (‘Jekyll’), Indian-like percussion (‘Cicada’) and 8-bit nostalgia (‘Atari’) and they even begin the proceedings with an animal learning toy and a suspenseful THX-esque introduction. Probably just to warn us that we’re in for something cinematic. Yet somehow none of this is overbearing. It’s exhilarating and exciting and brought to a cohesion with Palm’s consistent flavoured vocal suave. The rationale for their wildness is that Hiatus Kaiyote see their role as musicians as important and equative to a presidential figure, capable of transforming pessimism moods into optimism and using their multi-dimensions to relate to as many people as possible. Apart from the album’s title Choose Your Weapon being an homage to beat’ em up arcade games, it suggests selective listening, with the “weapon” being the tool listeners can use to solve their crises.
Hiatus Kaiyote may be part of the burgeoning Australian scene that is firing out creative talents at a bullet-like rate: Pond, Tame Impala, Airling, Klo and Courtney Barnett to name a few, but this quartet have a whole different ball game altogether. Proud at playing Australian rules football with their compositions.
Choose Your Weapon was released on 4th May 2015 through Flying Buddha records