Originally published in Beat Magazine.
It’s midnight and Nai Palm makes her debut crowd surf, a celebration of her 25th birthday. That girl’s got a lot to celebrate, from international endorsements to Grammy nominations. “A quarter of a century and I’m still here,” she teases from her mic, centre stage.
There are two types of Hiatus listeners; those that listen with creased foreheads and those that can’t keep still. The former don’t know what to make of them and the latter can’t get enough of them, assuming they’ve come across the coolest sound in contemporary music. They exhibit a kind of space soul, with grooves often conveying a somewhat unearthly tone. Imagine a musical E.T skilled in the art of keyboards, well that’s Simon Mavin, dancing over his instrument with uncanny dexterity. Paul Bender glides along the bass like Thundercat, layering the rhythm with polyrhythmic undertones that would fit right at home on Brainfeeder and Perrin Moss deliberately plays percussion on the off-beat, giving Kaiyote that slurred, delayed beat. It’s that suspended percussion and Nai Palm’s unusual phrasing and tone that really separate Hiatus musically from any other act in Melbourne. Palm’s body language is playful and vibrant; it’s her voice that seduces us. She has an unusual way of phrasing her lyrics, deliberately avoiding particular letters so it sounds like she’s either singing only scraps of the word or making up new ones altogether. She also uses a lot of vibrato, which ends up doubling as a guitar; played by some mad instrumentalist obsessed with eerie chord arrangements. Her unconventional image – head 3/4 shaved, tat beneath her lip – paired with her ability to sound like Badu one minute and a completely separate instrument the next makes Palm the most interesting woman in Australian music today.
Confined in a bandroom not dissimilar from the aesthetics of a ski lodge, the audience are mesmerised by the charming, unorthodox snow queen up on stage. Instead of singing Nakamarra as an ode to the desert, we can imagine the song as a homage to an infinite expanse of snow, belonging to some far off, distant planet with Hiatus Kaiyote as the house band.