This month we’re going to revisit a personal favorite artist of mine. Hiatus Kaiyote’s lead singer, Nai Palm, just released her first solo album, Needle Paw, in October. On this album Palm pays homage to the most influential people in her musical career, contrasting her band’s vastly layered and instrumentally complex tunes with acoustic songs that allow her powerhouse vocals to be the star.
Her commitment to showcasing indigenous Australian culture is clearly on display from the beginning; she opens and closes the album with chants from fellow Australian Jason Guwanbal Gurruwiwi. As she noted in a Billboard magazine interview, Palm has worked diligently through the years to raise the mainstream culture’s awareness of indigenous people. The inclusion of Gurruwiwi on her album is just another way that Palm highlights the culture and beauty of her home’s native people.
Other major influences are also represented on this album. Palm covers songs from D’angelo and Tamia to Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. Her rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” displays the full range of her vocal capabilities, executing soulful runs and high notes that were sometimes less prominent in her previous songs with Hiatus Kaiyote. Palm also shows off her chops as a guitarist, accompanying herself and her backup singers with blues riffs that tie in perfectly with her free flowing vocals.
Another song that I think is a feat for Palm both as a vocalist and as a songwriter is “When the Knife,” one of the few completely new songs on the album. As with the rest of the album, this song is simple, but Palm packs it with backups that make the track feel just as full and rich as previous songs with her full band. The backup singers meld seamlessly with her vocals while still being independent, bringing their own personality into the tracks. In addition, parts that do not have these backups are placed so expertly that they catch your attention, underscoring the quality of Palm’s vocal performance.
In to contrast some of these more vocally strenuous tunes, there are ballads such as “Haiku” and “Atoll,” which, while not as in-your-face with riffs and backups, still resound with Palm’s storytelling ability. These songs showcase the poetic gift Palm brings to her lyrics. If you wanted more of her older tunes with Hiatus Kaiyote, there are fantastic acoustic versions of “Atari,” “Molasses,” and a few others that come surprisingly close to the originals in their musical complexity.
This album is a great accomplishment for Palm as a solo artist. She has now not only established herself as a lead vocalist of the first order, but also as a great stand-alone performer. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to give this album a listen, along with the rest of Palm’s music with Hiatus Kaiyote.
- Rachael Murdock '18