If you’re just getting in on this countdown now you can get caught up by clicking the links below:
#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu
#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody
#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala
#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote
No, this isn’t my Top 19 Albums of the Decade By Australian Artists. It’s back-to-back Aussie on the countdown. Can I call the 2010’s the Australian Invasion?
I don’t remember when or how I discovered Hiatus Kaiyote. I’m going to take a guess and say Okayplayer.com had something to do with it. They usually get at least partial credit when I discover something new. The song was “Nakamarra” and it was perfect. A laid back neo-soul track with a bit of a breezy yacht rock vibe that was clearly played by a band, not sampled. The voice of an angel sang “I love you, I love you I do…” sweet with just the right amount of rasp. Q-Tip made an appearance, which is saying something. Q-Tip doesn’t typically show up on just anyone’s albums…except Beastie Boys, Janet Jackson, and Deee-Lite. Within minutes I was googling the band, watching YouTube videos, and checking the vinyl price of their debut album Tawk Tomahawk.
Turns out this “future soul” band that I was obsessing over was from Australia. I was expecting Brooklyn when I heard them, not Melbourne. Seriously, keep the good music coming, Australia. You’re winning me over. The band is amazing and they’re frequently toying with tempos and time signatures within the same song, which I enjoy. However, it’s the vocalist, Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield, who puts them over the top. Her versatile, soulful voice is powerful enough to carry something uptempo like “Breating Underwater” but soft and warm enough to melt you on a song like “Fingerprints.” If you want enjoy music so beautiful it gives you a physical reaction, check out Nai Palm singing “Nakamarra” over an acoustic guitar from their Recalibrations, Vol. 1 EP. Stunning. The band is already crazy talented. Nai Palm’s vocal talent makes them special.
When I hear people complain that music isn’t good anymore or that music isn’t what it used to be I think about a band like Hiatus Kaiyote and continue to believe that the people complaining just aren’t trying hard enough. It’s much easier to say shit isn’t what it used to be than it is to seek something out. Hiatus Kaiyote contributed two outstanding albums this decade that proved talent, creativity, and musicianship are as good as they’ve ever been. I can’t wait to hear what they have in store next.
Now it’s awards time for Choose Your Weapon:
It’s probably a cop out to say it depends on my mood, but it really does depend on my mood. “Breathing Underwater” is a tour de force. There aren’t many bands that can pull off what they did on that track. I also derive great joy anytime I get the chance to use the term tour de force. “Breathing Underwater” was nominated for a Grammy and rightfully so. My choice for Favorite Song, and the song I keep coming back to on this album, is Fingerprints. For all of the wild displays of creativity on this album, it’s this mellow down-tempo jam that gets me every time. It picks up steam and crescendos at about the 3:20 mark, but it’s the slow burn up until that point that gets me. It’s an incredible chill song. I’ll spin this album and when “Fingerprints” finally appears at the end of Side B I usually have an audible reaction. I stop what I’m doing and utter something like, “Oh shit…” and just listen. Nai Palm’s layered background vocals float in and out of the background. Perrin Moss’s simple perfection on the drums is a thing of beauty by itself. I imagine maintaining that slow tempo and still keeping it interesting is sometimes as challenging as more complex tracks and yet he does it flawlessly. A breathtakingly beautiful track and my favorite on the album.
I’m staying with the same track. More beauty from “Fingerprints”
They taunt me like a bird caged by scorched wings
Puzzle pieces missing
The grubby fingerprints that kissed the walls have vanishedLike the wind without her whisperings
And the colours wept from all her tapestries
Would be left nothing but sullen imagery
The uncertainty of forgotten things
Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song
Despite the fact that I just called it an incredible chill song, I can’t go back to “Fingerprints” again. Instead I’ll go with a similar song in Borderline With My Atoms. This song also builds up, but this ends in more of an explosion. It stops being a chill song somewhere around the 4 minute mark, but you still get four minutes of relaxing before the overpowering finish. Enjoy it, but be ready for the end to be less chill than the beginning.
Ring Walk Song
Strange batch of songs here to consider for a ring walk, but I’m going with Laputa. There’s little intimidating about this song. I think it would be more about the strange vibe this song would give to the arena. A little smoke and blue/green lights. Then the drums hit. At one point she sings, “I’ve been running, running but the riot hunts for you you you you.” This song would mess with the opponent’s head. He’d be thinking, “This cat is weird if this is his choice for ring walk music.” While he’s second guessing everything I’d be ready.
Favorite Happy Song
I gave the lyrics to Molasses multiple reads while preparing for this paragraph. I think I’m usually halfway decent at deciphering the meaning of a song unless it’s performed by Duran Duran or Camp Lo. Usually I can at least venture a guess that won’t be completely embarrassing. This one has me stumped. When Nai Palm repeatedly sings, “Might not get any better,” in this song I’m not sure if it’s because things are bad and they might not get any better or because they’re so good they can’t get any better. Regardless, the tempo, music, and general vibe of the song make me happy, so I’m picking it.
Song I’d Play if I Was DJing
I have no idea how to answer this one, so I’m changing the rules here. Breathing Underwater is a modern masterpiece and at worst my second favorite song on this album. Five minutes of creative genius that pushes the boundaries of popular music. It didn’t fit in to one of my silly awards, but it deserves special mention somewhere, so I’m doing that here. One of my favorite songs of the decade deserves at least that.
6th Man Award
Around the same time I was falling in love with Hiatus Kaiyote’s music another newcomer (newcomer to me, anyway) by the name of Anderson .Paak caught my ear. During my first listen to his incredible album Malibu (you will be hearing about that album later on this list) I came across a surprise at the end of “Without You” that made me do a double take. The last 15 seconds of the track was taken directly from Hiatus Kaiyote’s “Molasses”. A move that elevated my opinion of both artists simultaneously. I thought, “Oh shit, he knows Hiatus Kaiyote? He’s so cool.” I also thought, “They’re so cool. Anderson .Paak included their music on his record.” He also contributes a verse on the trippy remix of “Laputa” on the aforementioned Recalibrations, Vol. 1 EP. They could do more music together and I wouldn’t complain. Strange to choose someone who doesn’t appear on this album, I know. I enjoy it when people who I admire are also fans of each other.
Speaking of Anderson .Paak, the next album on the list will be the first of his on this list. Coming soon…