By Will Udo
Well, well, well. Here we are again, reading into the artistry and narrative work of fairly new musical composition. Being on the forefront of cutting-edge culture comes with a deep responsibility. The responsibility of always having the courage to try novel things regardless of negative or inadequate outcomes. So here we are, attempting the new — a joint editorial of Nai Palm’s “Needlepaw” and Nick Hakim’s “Green Twins.” Within this article, we will attempt to dualize both albums into compartments of comparison and contrast. In addition, we’ll pinpoint the golden takeaways from each debut album and solo artist.
Naomi Saalfield’s first mass recognition came from her work with the band Hiatus Kaiyote, in which Saalfield performed as the front woman and leading guitarist under the alias Nai Palm. The Australian band’s freshman and sophomore albums, 2012’s “Tawk Tomahawk” and 2015’s “Choose Your Weapon,” received warm recognition and global acceptance from fans abroad and musicians near and close. Within three years, instrumentals and vocals from Nai Palm had been sampled by Anderson .Paak, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Along with respect and recognition came high praise and eventual co-sign with soul mother #1 Erykah Badu. It is no mistake that Nai Palm and her bandmates have been labeled as purveyors and torch-holders for evolved soul music. The sense of validation has allowed for a genre-blending and genre-bending musical compartmentalization of its own. Through the melismatic voice of Nai Palm and elusive instrumentation of bandmates Paul Bender, Parrin Moss and Simon Mavin, Hiatus Kaiyote has been able to fuse funk, soul, hip-hop, opera and pop into a tightly bolted but non-restricted creative domain.
Nick Hakim is a 26-year-old thoughtful songwriter from Brooklyn, New York. His mom originates from Chile and his father from Peru. Hakim’s first musical influences came from his parents who would play Willie Colon, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix and Nueva Cancion around the house. His brother exposed him to early-2000s punk albums and his school friends introduced him to hip-hop and D.C. go-go. While attending Berklee College of Music, Hakim released a two-part EP titled “Where Will We Go.” The subject matter and composition of the tapes convey loneliness of solitude, personal vices, love and self-discovery. Hakim is able to layer and project his voice, creating a soulful and serene outcome, and he tailors melodic poetry with a muddied, melancholic tone.
So what do these two have in common? These two crooners sing with raw emotion, express fearless experimentalism, showcase soft spiritualism and deliver unique swirling hollow sounds that somehow find their way into the middle of one’s chest… prying and pleading their way into the inner walls of sound. On a few tracks, it sounds as if Bilal and Bon Iver produced a musical baby and Hakim was the aftermath from that musical womb. In contrast, if Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and Janis Joplin made a musical baby, Nai Palm would be the prototype. Of course both of these artists are gifted and carry their own individualized talents, but the influence is heavily-felt on the exposés of both these works. “Needlepaw” is unlike anything Nai Palm has previously worked on… Until this point. The 13-track LP contains covers of songs where Nai Palm pays homage to some of her musical inspirations such as David Bowie’s “Blackstar” and Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song.” She produces a tribute to Salaam Remi on “Crossfire”, a cover of Tamia’s “So Into You” and an enharmonic of Jimi Hendrix’s “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland).” She also remixes and brings a new element to previous songs she has put on previous albums (“Mobius,” “Molasses,” and “Atari”), providing a chance for more intricate discussions of the ruminations of life, death, nature and surviving. At the same time, Nai Palm is able to bring light to the culture forefront of marginalized, indigenous cultures from the outskirts of Australia. This work is most present in the opening and concluding “Wititj” Lightning Snake chants, featuring and conducted by Jason Guwanbal Gurruwiwi.
Nai Palm’s solo debut comes with minimalistic production with a pool of stressed syllables, melismatic vocal runs and densely-smooth gospel blue notes. The falsetto and abnormal ad-libs of Nai Palm continually fit into the frame of her sound as a whole. Juxtapose that with the warm falsetto of Hakim’s debut. The hollow reverb infused with jazz takes on a psychedelic twist that gives the whole album a subconscious, terrestrial atmosphere. The platform Hakim uses is a poetic approach that illuminates his emotional intelligence and personal triumph. The subject matter of lost love shifts to an admiration for devotional love. Technique-wise, Hakim is very versatile in his deliverance. On tracks like “Farmissplease” and “Cuffed” Hakim is able to morph his vocals, sounding as if he is coming from afar, close to the ear or from the galaxy down the street. Throughout the whole album, Hakim also slides his voice with a “bilal-like” baritone belt, utilizing flash transitions back into his psychedelic falsetto. Other great aspects of this project include the call-and-response features, flared crescendos and twangy nooks and crannies (evident on “TYAF”) that enrich the songs in subtle but moving ways.
An initial glimpse into the cover art of these two debut records indicates a veil behind a veil sort of artistic message; portraying and exuding a double-meaning at first glance. As the music industry continues to evolve, album artwork’s underlying messages and function in contributing to the overall listening experience is all the more important. The evolution of decorative typographic LP’s(45’s,33’s) and eventually CD’s has now evolved into digital cover art in which we experience artwork vicariously through the screen, literally. The single eyeball staring directly at itself through the mirror in front of the green-clouded background gives off the feeling that the project is self-reflective but there’s an abstract energy or something sapient pressing to be produced wrapped around it. In Naomi’s case her visuals are more eerily distorted with a silhouette depiction of contorted body (assumed to be Nai Palm), aero-dynamic hair flow accompanied with point long fingers, and finally a witchy but aesthetically soothing typography vertically placed to the side. Each are able to ploy and attract the reader into the musical realm of their projects.
Sound and Lyricism
A few songs stand out sonically and lyrically on Nai Palm’s album. First of all, “Homebody,” The track is unapologetically minimalistic and incredibly introspective. Over what we can assume to be Nai Palm’s natural acoustic strums she sings a series of concise poetic strophes, “Home is in your body/ Homebody.” In addition to her own emotional reminders, she calls unto the hearts and minds of her audience with lyrics that sink in without struggling or fighting to do so. “You don’t have to bury all the memories…/ Time will always come around to meet you with the right answers.” Time and time again, Nai Palm hammers on the nails of sentiment and poetic emotionality. On the song “Atoll”, she again is accompanied by the stripped down acoustic strum and carefully melodies the strophes, “When the damn thing breaks(x2) I’ll be there to take you home/ I’ll be there to take your pose… When the dust dissipates/ I’ll grow patient like a town.” She pays homage to the Japanese 5-7-5 poetic syntax structure on “Haiku” and again uses a simple poetic melody on “Crossfire” (tribute to Saleem Remi) to express herself while reaching the ears of her audience, “A crossroad is better than a crossfire”, Nai Palm sings Although Nai Palm’s minimalistic sound strays away from her usual polyrhythmic pace, by her stripping back the sound she is able to fill in the holes with her uplifting neo-soulful voice accompanied with her abstract poetic lines. She leaves much room for her audience to either interpret what she is saying in regards to herself, but as well how the music is applicable to the audience and the resonant weight her message carries. The sound aura is authentically earnest, original, and more than honest; it’s insightful.
In contrast, Hakim provides a layered enriched sound that is hypnotic and densely packed with musical instruments, distorted voices, and voice effects that combine all elements. The opening track, “Green Twins,” sets the vibe with an ambient atmosphere that is sonorous and reverberant throughout the LP. One of the more memorable chorus’, “They always haunt my dreams/ The green twins with your eyes” is both spine-chilling and gets more eerie as Hakim truthfully admits, “I admit inside me lives fear, fear I never wanted to show you.” Similarly to Nai Palm, Hakim’s choice of words hits close to him and is equally introspective and just as strophic. Hakim again uses minimalistic poetic strophes on tracks such as “The Want”: “I wanted her, she wanted me/ It’s all I need, at least I thought it would be…I wanted her, she wanted me/ It’s a mistake, at least I want it to be.” Again, introspective to an experience, but beautifully structured and has relevance to a listener. In comparison to Nai Palm, Hakim is able to fill holes in his music with highly layered tracks that seem to be enharmonic and stacked on multiple dubs. Hakim is clear and blunt in his messages of love lessons and realizations; songs where this tone is clear and exuberant include the tracks “Miss Chew” & “Slowly.” The significant and signifying joints of the LP include “Needy Bees,” the opening keys and bass fill works perfectly with style of voice and choice of words; “I’ll live inside of you, to find what you’relooking for/ Tell me about it.” Hakim’s poetic skill is illuminated best on the song “Bet She Looks Like You.” The tracks opens with a densely looped percussive power. Hakim himself takes control of this music by instilling his poetic falsetto; reflectively speaking within himself, “My veins are the roots of this tree/ I would die inside if you ever stopped the dripping.” The bridge point about a minute into the songs releases a roaring electric guitar accompanied with twangy-stimulating synthesizers that carry over the psychic realization of the symbolic stanza Hakim continually phrases. He compassionately states, “If there’s a God/ I wonder what she looks like, I bet she looks like you… I wish that life would feed the tree/ or you could put me to sleep/ Forever, ever.” In both, Hakim could be referencing a past or present lover, but he is able to keep his context vague and abstract.
The consistent ability of these artists to choose enigmatic yet relevant mantras, and to then transform them into smooth soulful melodies, reflects their raw talent. For those who can grasp each artist’s sentiment and conceptual depth, the perfect remedy is awaiting to be unlocked. The complexities and similarities are present in both individuals, and although both soul babies stem from different roots, they each exhibit a style and showcase a taste of their own that allows for the merging of their colorful musical branches. With a more than advanced musical background and ability, the thing I appreciate most about both Nai Palm and Hakim is that they stay truthful to not only the rich sound they’ve been influenced by; but just as equally, they stay true to self through the reflections and expressions of themselves. They utilize individual subject matter, context and concise lyricism. Hakim’s dreamy, reflective sounds of love and triumph contrast Nai Palm’s uplifting croon — the messages match on a more than wondrous frequency. Although many of the sounds and lyrics are kept fairly simple, especially in Nai Palm’s case, both artists are able to deliver the content in a complex but coherent manner; one that reaches and eventually grabs the attention of listeners. Perhaps in the future, near or afar, these two soul babies can recruit the poet-songwriter Moses Sumney, and the three can form a Soulquarian 2.0-type wave that floods the market with artistic, futuristic projects. That could outlast the test of musical time and as poke a hole in the dam for others to flood through.
Edited by Elena Cruz and Elorm Nutakor