As soon as an explosion of brass cuts through the smooth ’70s keys and light beats of ‘Grease,’ Australians Koi Child transport you back to a time when the lines between hip-hop, jazz, funk and soul were distinctly blurred. The clue to this fusion is hidden in their name. Koi Child is actually a portmanteau of two Perth natives: instrumental jazz and hip hop group Kashikoi and fellow funksters Childs Play.
There’s also an added element to that already potent mix: Kevin Parker of Tame Impala. While Koi Child initially feels a world away from his psychedelic pop background, instead sounding more akin to Flying Lotus or Thundercat, Parker’s fingerprints are all over it. From the squelchy, malleable bass that underpins ‘Wumpa Fruit,’ to the electronic bleeps of ‘Black Panda’ and the effects layered onto MC Shannon “Cruz” Patterson’s voice, his touch gives the songs the added kick they need.
While Parker’s influence helps to drag much of Koi Child’s material into the 21st Century, it’s still impossible not to compare them to A Tribe Called Quest. At times, Patterson even starts sounding like Q-Tip and makes about as much sense, rapping about making roaches out of school books and using a longboard to guard against the summer heat. As he puts it, “anything can happen if you put it in a rap.” The most distinctive “voice” on the album comes from the brass section. On ‘1-5-9’ they’re more muted and restrained, but on tracks like ‘Cruzy P’ and ‘Touch Em’ the trombone and saxophones swell and sometimes turn semi-improvisational, providing some of the album’s most memorable moments. Holding it all together is some expert drumming from Blake Hart. On ‘Rap Trash’ he accompanies Patterson alone, providing some exquisite beats. The tongue-in-cheek nature of interlude ‘Funky Jazz Music,’ with its opening burp and riff on lounge music, tells you everything you need to know: it’s just fun.
That does mean that the album can come across as a little one-paced. Koi Child were essentially born in the live arena after Kashikoi and Childs Play held an all-in jam at a gig, and in that environment, these tracks would undoubtedly ignite. But while the aptly titled groove of ‘Slow One’ and the nods to Ennio Morricone on the dreamy ‘Frangipani’ turn the lights down low for a bit, the high tempo of the rest of the album can get a bit exhausting.
Still, Koi Child certainly wasn’t intended to be a contemplative, existential album. Keyboard player Tom Kenny talked about the good vibes created from recording the album within a small house on an island (“swimming in the river, recording vocals in the kitchen, sinking an ungodly amount of tinnies and encounters with giant weirdo spiders”) and that’s what Koi Child captures. Lying on the beach with a beer and the sun bearing down on your face, there’s probably few better soundtracks.