Nai Palm – Needle Paw (Review)

The sassy goddess that is Nai Palm, front-woman of the “Neo-Soul” band “Hiatus Kaiyote”, has released her debut solo album. She released it back in October 2017, and I’m finally getting round to sitting down and reviewing it. I’ve been a huge fan of Hiatus Kaiyote since they were just getting “noticed”. After seeing them at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival back in 2016, it really opened my eyes towards the sub genre of “neo soul” and what it really defines. “Erykah Badu,” “Drake” and “Thundercat” love them and I do too.  I’m intrigued to know where this album may take me mentally and physically as I’ve heard it’s helped people as “therapy and its healing sound to cleanse the soul”.

“Wititj (Lightning Snake) Pt 1” is the first song and it’s entered with experimental vocals from “Jason Guwanbal Gurruwiwi”  while we hear some wonderful chords in the background performed by Nai herself. Honestly, I don’t really know what’s going on and what Jason is singing, but whatever it is, it’s warm, welcoming and a lovely entrance to the album. I read in an interview that Nai wanted this song to celebrate the identity that Australia deserves. Australia isn’t exposed as much as other cultures, and she wanted to share the beauty of the sounds she’s been brought up with. Huge, huge respect to her.

Next up we have “Atari”. We hear this on the Hiatus Kaiyote album “Choose Your Weapon” with a more upbeat sound to it. This version is raw and layered with breath like vocals. The vocals are used in this track as a prominent rhythmical pulse which is really interested as instead of using percussion/drums for this song, the vocals are the beat. The guitar locks with the guitar to create such a great beat. I really like how the guitar isn’t played perfect too. The imperfections ARE perfections. As much as I do like this version, I don’t feel it has the same power that the original has.

“Crossfire / So Into You” is a new song for all us Nai Palm/Hiatus Kaiyote fans. To define a crossfire it means a gunfire from two different directions crossing through the same area. “A crossroad is better than a crossfire” well, obviously, at a crossroad you can choose which direction you would want to go in, whereas with a crossfire… it’s fixed to go in a certain way. The song itself is fairly catchy and it would be great to hear this song with a full band arrangement. If it works as a stripped back version though, I’m sure it’ll sound great as a band. Crossfire really tells the story of two lovers, one of them trying to convince the other to choose romance over everything else. The song is so interesting though as it’s two different songs blended together. Part 2: So Into You really dives into a 90’s R&B groove and sounds like something TLC would write. This medley is drowned in delicate vocals with the flavouring of lovely 90’s sass.

“Haiku” is the fourth track off the album. A “Haiku” is actually a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables. The verses are all sang in 17 syllables too, so Nai is sticking to the rules of a haiku. For such a simple song, I find it so powerful. The song really hits close to home with the soul vibes from Nai’s vocals. She really does know her harmonies. I sometimes think at any moment, she’s going to hit a bad note, but she just nails every single note. One of my favourites so far off the album.

Only Nai Palm can pull off the noises she makes. “Mobius” is actually a song off Hiatus’ debut EP). “Mobius” dives into a meaning about optical illusions, which makes sense as the arrangement of the song is complicated and colourful. It’s a really lovely interpretation of Mobius Streak. The melody of the song is so lovely to listen too. Sometimes the angelic atmosphere that the vocals bring wreck the purity of the chords that Nai’s playing, but it stills works and sounds nice. The guitar tone has quite a lot of treble, as Nai uses the bass frequencies of her vocals to capture the bass side of things (well it seems to be that way).

Molasses” is a kind of breakup song that’s about not wanting to wallow in the suffering because when you go through something that destroys you and you document it, and then get past it, performing it each time would just open the wound, so Nai actually wrote it from the perspective of her future self looking back, making it a positive break up song technically. What’s great is the phrasing of the lyrics makes the rhythm sound so funky. It’s weird hearing this version like this when Hiatus Kaiyote did a big version of this on Choose Your Weapon which features a really fat bass line. I feel this stripped back version misses the crucial power of the HK version. I know that Nai Palm released this album as a rarity of HK songs and unreleased stuff which is really great, but I’d love to hear more of her new stuff (if she is writing still of course.) This whole album is very simple and definitely Nai’s “unplugged-sounding” album. Her lyrics are always stunning, but dynamically this version just stays the same. Getting mixed emotions from this album so far. I like it, but I don’t. I’m a confusing person!!

Nai’s version of “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” is drowned with her soul and she really does revamp the Hendrix classic as her own. As all the songs, the harmonies in this are exceptional and free willing. If there was a song that defines the hippies, this song would probably be the King. There’s always something that makes me think about the original more as it’s an “original”, as much as I do like this version and I’m sure Hendrix would have too, but I prefer the original for sure. Hendrix took us all to Electric Ladyland, whereas Nai tells us about it.

“Atoll” is a new original for us to hear. Even though it’s a fairly short song, it’s really nice to this features a choir of voices with even a few happy laughs in the background. This song definitely features the most feels and warm feelings for the audience. The content of the song and the meaning behind it seems to be like a helping hand, “when the damn thing breaks, I’ll be there to take you home” initiates that when everything goes bad, I’ll be there to clean up the pieces. Definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album. Its pure.

The next song really takes us into a spiritual kind of gaze. It really shows off Nai’s vocal ability even more. “When the Knife” seems very gospel with all the backing vocals creating this choir effect again, with exceptional vocal licks through scales. The song seems quite dark about letting go of something but not actually wanting to let go of it (whatever “it” is). As much as I love Nai’s vocal and songwriting ability, I find it frustrating sometimes and I want her to just finish singing a line without all the fancy vocal licks. It’s talented, but can come off a bit big-headed and showing off.

The arrangement of the next “song” is quite clever how the songs all tie together. “Blackstar / Pyramid Song / Breathing Underwater” is a mashup of three iconic songs by three different artists. The arrangement is pretty much mainly Black Star by the late, great David Bowie, and Breathing Underwater by HK, with the added hook of Pyramid Song by Radiohead. Her interpretation of Blackstar is beautiful. She really displays her love for Bowie whose death was felt by many. The part that features Pyramid Song felt a bit too forced and that it shouldn’t really be there. The vocal effects were great for this part though. Breathing Underwater is an importance to HK and Nai as it shows that love is important all the time. I give respect to Nai for recording these songs especially as it definitely was a big risk. It just about makes it secure. With the song being 9.10 long, maybe some people are skipping it a lot? It’s definitely a rollercoaster ride filled with emotions, high and low.

“Borderline with My Atoms” starts with a weird reverse kind of effect on guitar which instantly captured me straight away. The rhythm and tone of the guitar on this song is especially my favourite of the album. The run up on her guitar is so effective and is essential for the song. It’s an old Hiatus song so I feel we all knew what to expect with it. It’s pretty similar to the original version and is definitely an iconic song for Nai.

We’re introduced to “Homebody” with some lovely questionable chords that are answered purely by Nai’s soft, smooth vocals. It was the first song recorded for the album as far as I know and also the first single released. I think Homebody serves as the album’s purest form. It’s worth and value is exceptional and is really the heart of it all. The harmonies answer Nai’s lead vocals perfectly. Everything blends together so well.

To round off the album we have “Wititj (Lightning Snake) Pt 2.” As I’ve said it before, I don’t really understand what’s going on and what’s being said but I really do appreciate it. It’s noisy and loud, but it makes me feel secure in a way that it’s like a safe place to come too while this man shouts. It’s a great ending to Nai’s “love” album.” She pours her heart and soul into this album and it’s really quite special. Well done, Nai.

“It is done, it’s good, do you feel good? thank you, I love you too” is a warm goodbye.

Score – 7/10
Favourite Tracks: Crossfire/So Into You, Haiku, Mobius, Molasses, Atoll, Homebody

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