Album Review: Haiku Hands – Pleasure Beast

[Spinning Top; 2023]

Determined to have a good time, Australia’s Haiku Hands don’t so much bring the party as they throw fuel on the fire to keep it going until the early hours. The trio of Claire and Mie Nakazawa and Beatrice Lewis burst through the doors with the energy of that one reveller turning up to a house party as it winds down; it’s so easy to get on board with their infectious vim, but equally exhausting if in the wrong mood for their sheer relentlessness. Slogans of self-affirmation and encouragement over a hedonistic mix of blaring synths and drums, the trio will determinedly rouse any listeners into their pack.

They have all the tools for it too. Their self-titled debut from 2020 was filled to the brim with catchy choruses designed to get festival crowds’ endorphins simmering (and a guest stop from Mad Zach and Sofi Tukker certainly helped the party atmosphere) – so much so that its relatively concise 40 minute runtime was something of a draining listening experience. Fun-but-overloaded is part of the band’s ethos though and you could never accuse Haiku Hands of not bringing enough of anything. Carrying forward that principle into their sophomore album, Pleasure Beast is a sometimes wearying and packed offering that has infectious moments aplenty, all while stepping out of the box occasionally and forging new approaches to their music.

This is clear from the first song as “All Around the World” rides a stuttering Middle Eastern inflection while the band members trade verses, encouraging listeners to live in the moment and take hold of joy. “All around the world there’s bombs going off / All around the world we’re still getting off,” they charge forward with in the song’s vibrant final stride. It might be the end of the world, but Haiku Hands are set on dancing through it. They dedicate themselves to rallying everyone to experience joy in all ways possible, like on the euphoric festival high of “Feels So Good” and the instructional album centrepeice “To The Left”.

These make for inviting and easily enjoyable moments, but like with their self-titled debut, the best results might be when the band take their foot off the accelerator a little. “Paradise” reaches for sunnier climbs and boasts a gentler edge, making the distorted lyrics a bleary hum and feel-good background noise. Better still is the psychedelic-tinged “Elastic Love”, a blissed-out festival anthem that not only feels like a respite in the middle of the album, but feels plain-faced in its central query: “Do you feel what I feel?,” they ask, and even though you couldn’t put an exact name to the sensation, during the autotuned outlines of the chorus you are right there with them in the daze of it all.

Influences and production comes from all direction this time round too. While bandmember Beatrice Lewis steps up to join returning producers Joel Ma and Elgusto behind the mixing decks, the album also features input from the likes of Motez, Broods’ Caleb Knott, Paul Mac, Josh Fountain (BENEE, Ladyhawke), Dan Farber (Lizzo, Tkay Maidza), and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. Sydney-based rapper Jamaica Moana also drops in for a verse at the end of “To The Left” and Ribongia joins in the on the remix-ready finale “Nunchucka”. The band also cite a deluge of varying influences from the flute playing of Hermeto Pascoal to the work of Pedro Almodóvar. “Ma Ruler” boasts a bustling rhythm section that Rosalía would be at home with while “Cool For You”’s relentless rave synths and carnal punctuation has echoes of the Chemical Brothers in it. 

Pleasure Beast is full of evocative moments, but also their signature goofy humour; in-jokes aplenty litter both their lyrics and the tracklist. Tracks like the half-Flaming Cheetos-inspired “Chito” elicits a smirk, but stands out as a weak point on the record. Sometimes it goes both ways: “Grandma” is a commentary on the exhausting demands of capitalist life and living up to expectations (“I’ve got 3000 things that I need to do / because I’m an adult / Busy busy busy”), but off-kilter lines like “My grandma and your grandma are sucking big cigars” throws the track off its axis. If you weren’t sold on the band’s schtick last time round, then Pleasure Beast likely won’t convert you to their cause.

That isn’t for want of trying though. Haiku Hands spout “we don’t want much / we just want it all” and that they “are now your boss”, and honestly it’s hard to fault them for not absolutely being sold on this themselves. Female empowerment and crowd encouragement ultimately take the reins, and it can be invigorating as it is just plain entertaining. While they still have a penchant for crowdpleasing chants and slogans, they occasionally veer away from traditional verse/chorus structures here too, and the results (“All Around The World” especially) make for dynamic indictments of the world where real stakes are on the line. 

The band claim Pleasure Beast to be their first proper album and introduction, a bonafide artistic statement (Haiku Hands was more a collection of singles in retrospect), and the progression is definitely evident. Though the end result is tiring at times (especially on the first few spins) and again could have done with some trimming of the tracklist, it’s more dynamic than before. The ethos and instructions for their music still remains the same though, as the band explain: “Be in a space where you can play it really loudly. And that you can dance [in]. Haiku Hands, tearing the door down, waking up neighbours, and restarting the party still dare you not to dance.