Haiku Hands (Spinning Top Records)
In one sense, what Haiku Hands do feels scattershot. Loads of fun, but all over the place.
Musically and sonically they scurry hither and non, from Chic-ish funk and barebones electronica to exuberant hip hop and light industrial techno. The base elements may be American (and the personnel – Claire and Mie Nakazawa, Beatrice Lewis and, offscreen, co-writer/co-producer Joel Ma – Australian) but the combination has a decided trans-Atlantic feel: part catwalk, part street corner dance-off, part robo-scratching, part underground Berlin.
The emphasis is on propulsion – instrumentally and vocally – and the underlying drive seems to be that of their exciting live shows: hands up, feet down, bum out, shake down. You may not always be dancing, but when you’re not you do find yourself jerking in spasms, stiff-arming some moves or affecting that strut that says yes, I do know you’re watching me.
As they say in a (sadly) non-album track from last year, “I dare you not to dance”.
Over this they prefer a shouty delivery that tempts you to think of them merely as throwback enthusiastic teens pinging you from the sidelines who revel in the simple pithiness of a good putdown or declaration (whether it’s “Fuck this shit, I’mma do this, if I want, when I want, when I want I’mma get it” or “it’s not about you, shut up, it’s not about me either/I am my sister’s keeper, chi-i-i-ll”).
But they wrangle words in direct play (“I’m going to tear up the lexicon with a hexagon and my sexy thong on”) or on the twist (“We walk the plank off the chain/We spank the track/We crawl the floor, shake the dust/We strike the match”). They slip in some sly commentary on art wankery (“I wanna talk about myself/I just know a lot about art/I’m sorry I forgot your name/Tell me what is it you do”) and then stay straight and open emotionally (“I want to know that you’re ok/Such a beautiful carcrash baby/I can’t turn away/And it’s an honour to know you lady/Even when you’re in pain”).
And I should mention for a whole song they pronounce Jupiter as ja-peter. Why? Why not? If there is an underlying thread to their words and music it is take control, make it yours, own that shit, …and then laugh yourself silly because you’re having the best time.
When they fall short, on the narrow band Mechanical Animal, and the more performative pop of Morning Becomes, the finger can be pointed at a loss of the light touch that carries other tracks, like the imperfect but snappy Eat This Bass, over bumps. But when it works, whether it’s the breakthrough exuberance of Not About You, the clatter-dance of Onset or the surprising tenderness of the quite conventional Car Crash, the balance of zest and meaning is pretty spot on.
The reference points ping from Tom Tom Club to Daphne & Celeste, from Machine Gun Fellatio to Missy & Timbaland, from Peaches and TZU to Shonen Knife and the Ninja Tunes label, from Afrika Bambaataa to Nina Hagen, from Giorgio Moroder to Boney M (truly: listen to Manbitch and get back to me), from B[if]tek to Lily Allen.
Yes, plenty of those are almost ancient history now, and the contributors on this album are anything but ancient – El Gusto from Hermitude, Sofi Tukker (who partner up on Fashion Model Art), and producers Mad Zach, Machinedrum and Lewis Cancut. But Haiku Hands and Ma have built a machine that feels weirdly very old school as well as tongue-pokingly fresh.
Scattershot? Yeah, but with more purpose than you might suppose.