[Mad Decent; 2020]

Haiku Hands is community more than anything else. The Australian three-piece (or four-piece when performing live) make arty rave pop dance anthems for parties where they vibrantly shout things like “It’s not about you,” “Shut up,” and “I’mma kick your arse” – and that’s all in the first track of their self-titled debut. “Not About You” is a four-to-the-floor workout that declares (as an addendum), “it’s not about me either.” The song is about no one and for everyone, and just like when the band introduced themselves to the world with the track back in 2017, it kicks the door open and turns anywhere into a party.

Sisters Claire and Mie Nakazawa and Beatrice Lewis (and Mataya Young when performing) are infectious as they come. They rile up crowds with simple choruses that are in your head in seconds, and their energy makes it impossible not to sing along. Sure, a track like “Manbitch” might not be reaching too far into the well of lyrical depths with its repeated declarations of “You can be my man bitch / (I can be your man bitch),” but with all the surrounding dance rap lyrics and skittering drum machines, courtesy of honorary fifth member and producer Joel Ma (aka Joelistics), it’s easy to let the need to find deeper meaning slip away. Sure, there may be valid takes on gender identity on “Manbitch” or commentary on digital surveillance culture on “I See You Baby”, but the listeners can enjoy the surface level and dig deeper if they really want to.

Pretty much any track here would do a fine job of getting a crowd going at a festival, but the highlight party hit might be “Jupiter”. Sonically it’s nothing new, with its singalong chorus, Rapture-esque spiky guitar riff, and spacey synth squiggles, but it’s pretty much a flawless creation that’s impossible not to love.

The most interesting material, however, comes when the band sets aside the rave lights and party streamers, and let what feels like genuine pathos come to the surface. “Sunride” sears with a sunset-smeared glow where they declare in unison that “We all go a little crazy sometimes / You know me better than I know myself,” as they touch upon feelings of doubt we all stumble upon. (“We talk loud / It’s too much,” they admit at one point, in a welcome moment of self-reflection.)

Better still is late album highlight “Car Crash”, where Claire Nakazawa takes the foreground in a slow-burning, heavy bass-driven anthem about friendship and lifting others up. It explores themes such as losing touch with friends, drifting apart from the ones we love, and helplessly watching friends suffer. “And it’s an honour to know you, lady / Even when you’re in pain,” the band come together to reassure come the song’s bridge before adding repeatedly (and not losing their style and attitude), “You’re fucking awesome, lady.” On an album of high energy, in-jokes, sassy takedowns, and relentless zeal, moments like “Car Crash” bring it all back down to earth – and the contrast makes it hit all that harder.

And it is a lot of energy they exude. From the get go “Onset” already sounds like it’s getting away from them, and on the guttural silliness of “Eat This Bass” they even descend into a verse of mumbled lyrics, the point of the song seeming to lose its way. There are echoes of the Spice Girls, Le Tigre, The Ting Tings, Kero Kero Bonito, and country-mates The Presets here, but despite its musical and stylistic nods to other acts, it still feels fresh – which is mostly down to the relentless delivery.

But even at a respectable 39 minutes, it still loses steam; any album with this much energy would. With singles like “Not About You”, “Manbitch”, and “Jupiter” placed early in the track list and bursting with energy from the moment you hit play, the final third of Haiku Hands suffers and gets easily cast aside. “Super Villian” might have them at their most defiant, crying “Fuck this shit I’mma do this if I want when I want, when I want I’mma get it,” but by the time it swings around at track nine on the album they shouldn’t be having to convince anyone else of anything.

This is collective music though. Everyone gets a verse and a chance to show off how the chorus chants have inspired them. “It’s a project where we can say, ‘Look what we can create together’. It’s a joint effort,” Claire explains. Sometimes the fun extends a little too far out, and the flashy idea could be condensed into a skit or something shorter. “Fashion Model Art” is evidently a goofy takedown of runway parties and the vacant personalities that come with the fashion industry, but it’s nothing that Flight of the Conchords didn’t cover with “Fashion Is Danger” back in 2009. Likewise, aforementioned “I See You Baby” has some lyrical depth to offer, but equally just feels like an excuse from members of the band to scream across bars in the music (a feature which grates all too quickly). 

A few missteps are expected though as the band figure out what they want to say beyond a three minute single to get a party going. “That’s why [the songs are] playful and silly and experimental, because we were just literally experimenting,” Claire explains. They’re trying out different outfits and wearing them around to see what fits well and what is maybe a little impractical. Haiku Hands is that place to feel out their sound, full of good and not so good choices. But going by the strong material here, there’s plenty of reason to be excited as to what they offer next time round.

One of the most surprising things about the album though is the fact that last year’s excellent single “Dare You Not To Dance” didn’t make the cut. Its title was as much a threat as an encouraging suggestion, but it fits the ethos of the group perfectly into a four-minute track. This is music made for dancing, and that’s evident from the choreo of the band when they’re on stage to exciting interpretations by the likes of Brian Friedman. It’s exclusion from the tracklist aside though, the threat is still there on Haiku Hands’ debut album – even if they don’t have the track saying it. Put on just about any of the songs here and try not to move your body in some way. I dare you.

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