Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Nai Palm has come out with her debut solo album, Needle Paw: an intimate collection of covers and originals wrapped in rich harmonies that gives a slightly new perspective on her already established compositions, as well as introducing some new and more personal ones. Better known as the lead singer of Hiatus Kaiyote (the Australian group known for their soulful, slightly jazzy vibes, and possibly being the tightest band around today), she has stepped away from the comfort of her band to bare her husky voice in a much more personal setting.
Nai Palm’s influences explain the slightly-off rhythms and her vocal-heavy style, which can at first feel a bit jarring. It’s her eclectic taste in music which has led to her eclectic style. The influence of Latin and West African rhythms is apparent through most of her songs, leading to the not-quite-normal 4⁄4 feel, and melody lines picking up seemingly from out of the blue. A focus on intricate vocal melodies derives from her love for Saharan music, with singers like Oumou Sangare inspiring her vocalisations. It’s amazing how natural it comes to her as well; her guitar playing – which can get a little messy – rhythmically flows naturally against the constantly-changing directions of her songs, matching her powerful and fluid voice. In this album, the guitar is used less as the focus of harmony, more providing small cross-rhythms and short melodic riffs behind the close, thick vocal parts. The guitar playing is very bass heavy, giving context to her harmonies and simple rhythms to mess around on top of. These harmonies, which are the most impressive aspect of the album, are done quite tastefully; to get a venerable sound alongside her more personal lyrics on a song such as ‘Homebody’, she’ll leave her voice exposed for the whole line - just as she’s about to ease out of it, the other vocal lines creep in, as if to reassure herself. Other times she’ll build up the harmonies enough that her lead part only slightly rides above, dipping in and out of the many layers in an almost overwhelming flood of voices, as heard at the end of ‘Crossfire/So into you’.
My only issue with this album is that Hiatus Kaiyote’s Choose your Weapon, from which most of the covers come, is a lot more complete and holds many more interesting details musically than this one. And to be fair, the whole album could appear a bit self-conceited; it pretty much replicates her existing work, but now with three fewer people. However, Needle Paw is more for herself and her fans, giving us an introspective take on her already established compositions. I can imagine that this is how she hears her songs in her head, millions of beautiful voices piled on top of each other, constantly changing their direction. And even in a stripped back form, the songs hold power under her unaccompanied, masterful control.
So overall I’m happy with what she’s come out with, and can’t wait for Nai Palm to drop even more fire.
Artist: Nai Palm. Label: Sony Music. Top Tracks: Crossfire/So Into You; Blackstar/Pyramid Song/Breathing Underwater. For Fans Of: Hiatus Kalyote; Snarky Puppy; Moses Boyd. 58 minutes