Of all the breakout acts within Australian music over the past half-decade, Jinja Safari stands as one of the more unique prospects, and certainly one of the harder to explain when it comes to breakaway success. Shying away from pop convention, the quintet have explored roads less travelled with heavens-high harmonies, fluttering arrangements and healthy doses of Eastern instrumentation. Essentially, they were able to carve out a niche, only to find their blade still sharp and continue further in.
Pepa Knight is often seen as Jinja Safari’s secret weapon, the one pushing the envelope just that little bit further in order to stretch the songs from merely being good into the realm of greatness. It could be suggested that his particular contributions to their sound work best when complemented by his bandmates, and could err on the side of cumbersome were they left to their own devices. If anything is indicated by Knight’s debut solo effort Hypnotized Vol. 1, however, it’s this: the EP adds weight to the hypothesis that Jinja Safari might need Knight more than he needs them.
Spotting Knight’s influences feel like an easy game of Where’s Wally?. George Harrison springs to mind – particularly from the latter ‘hanging-out-with-Ravi-Shankar’ Beatles period into the All Things Must Pass record – as does Animal Collective alum Panda Bear, a particularly notable inspiration for both the melody and phrasing of Knight’s vocals. That said, it’s not something that distracts or detracts from the compositions themselves. Rather, it enhances them. Besides, there’s rarely a time where one’s work can be unflatteringly compared to that of a Beatle.
Knight is quick to establish a private universe across a tracklisting that falls just shy of half an hour. Each drum and cymbal hit rollicks along with smartly percussive syncopation sparking visuals of a stomping mythological beast. It spirals around harp arpeggios, the occasional burst of sitar and what sounds like an army of Pepa Knights singing out in a fit of pure joy. There are parallels to be drawn between it and Jinja Safari, certainly, but perhaps it says more about Knight’s reign over the band than it does about deviating from that role.
The cover art of Hypnotized Vol. 1 depicts Knight running freely through what appears to be a mountainous area, perhaps an homage to the opening shots of The Sound of Music. Whatever the case, that sense of freedom is something that bristles among the half-dozen tracks on offer here. It’s a venture forth into the great beyond, a dive into uncharted waters and a gamble that has substantially paid off.
Hypnotized Vol. 1 is out now.
Listen: Pepa Knight – Coyote Choir