Words by Emma Pearce
Perhaps the biggest testament to Koi Child’s musical prowess is the fact that they caught the attention of Kevin Parker of Tame Impala early on, who, after seeing them perform live at their very first show in their hometown of Fremantle, not only took them on a massive tour as Tame Impala’s support act, but who went on to produce and mix their entire debut album. The group’s formation is proof that being in the right place at the right time is something that happens, and its results can be glorious. Nu-jazz quartet Kashikoi and hip-hop trio Child’s Play were on the same bill at a show and both groups independently decided to ask the other to jam afterwards. The result of that circumstantial meeting of the fates was the stars aligning to bring us Koi Child and their eponymous first release, Koi Child.
To describe their sound as jazzy rap belies the musical creativity and harmonious flow which permeates every track on the album. From cacophonies of tightly-woven chords and looming, elongated soundscapes, to the lyrical mastery of the tight bars spat at breakneck speed by Frontman Shannon Patterson and the feather-light touch of keyboardist Tom Kenny; Koi Child are something different. They are not quite a sonic revolution; their sound tugs at the familiar strings of their predecessors (D’Angelo, Robert Glasper, The Roots, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra) but what they bring to the table is something just fresh enough to be unique.
Koi Child opens with instrumental track Grease – think Ornette Coleman meets The Roots, which sprawls across your eardrums smooth as summer silk; ethereal yet rebellious, tied together with precision drumming. Second track Wumpa Fruit comes punching into your frontal cortex with warm, dubby beats and sharp sax – put your headphones in for this one kids, it packs a punch – leaving you rolling your shoulders like you’re at a stoner rock show. Two minutes in the vocals kick in, not overwhelming enough to supersede the beat-laden experimental flow, but just enough to leave you wanting more of Patterson’s rhymes as the track lulls to a slow and steady fade.
It’s the third track Touch ‘Em where begin to see the hip hop vibes come through for real. Patterson kicks off with the playful lyric “Yo, you thought that was it?” signifying the change of pace that this track delivers. Launching into what can best be described as gangsta brass, the sound changes from the trippy, soulful vibe they’re been crafting to a full on hip hop tour-de-force. This band cites UK hip-hop crew Mouse Outfit as one of their influences and, speaking as a Brit, you can definitely see the comparisons in jazzy breaks and playful lyrics. The instrumentals segue between New Orleans brass to Herbie Hancock after a couple of lines of coke, with the refrain lilting over off-kilter chord changes to create a sonic cataclysm which lacerates your eardrums. In a good way.
Adventures From The Capsule has the feel of spoken word over free jazz. Patterson reminisces about his past, writing an epistle to his future self. Functioning as an interlude reminiscent of early 90s Native Tongues collective, the track delivers heartfelt lyrics with incredible poise, interwoven with spasmodic beats in a glittering arrhythmia of talent and grace.
Cruzy-P glides along on velvet wings, soaring from delicate chord changes to bass-laden beats with just enough of Pattern’s soft-spoken supernatural vocals mixed in to transport you to another world, perhaps reminiscent of the island shack where the album’s recording took place. Just as you’re drifting off, Preserve kicks in with a driving drum beat which feels somehow at odds with its self-proclaimed “stanzas” about weed, but fuck it, it works. It works really, really well.
It is on Black Panda, their second release off the album, where Patterson really shows off his prowess as an emcee: super-fast, super tight, super clever (shout out to my favourite lyric: “rolling a blunt with a broken lung”) with some heavy-as-fuck piano riffs to complement the tightly-hewn lyrics to deliver this neatly-packaged two-and-a-half minutes of aural pleasure.
If a different band had made Koi Child, the album could feel a little bit disjointed, overly fragmented, like too many influences fighting for control. The fact that it does not is a testament to the collaboration between all musicians involved, who knew from the first time they heard each other that their sounds would work seamlessly together – and they do. You can really hear each of the artists on this album, from the minimalistic guitar riffs in Frangipani to dizzying rhythmic drums on Rap Trash, this is a band who weaves their distinct sounds into one harmonious whole. They have definitely been born from a jam session; you can easily picture Patterson starting out freestyling over jazzy breaks. Like he says on 159 “find the rhyme, then correct it, direct it”, and he does, and it’s perfect, and I want them live in my living room right now.
Koi Child Tour Dates
Friday 18 March – The Brightside, Brisbane QLD
Saturday 19 March – Newtown Social Club, Sydney NSW
Saturday 2 April – The J Shed, Fremantle WA