Hiatus Kaiyote - Mood Valiant (Album Review)
25 June 2021
Album Rating 4/5
Solo Performances 5/5
Diversity in Songs 4/5
Favourite Songs 'Chivalry Is Not Dead', 'And We Go Gentle', 'Rose Water', 'Stone or Lavender'
The wait - or hiatus if you will - is over.
Hiatus Kaiyote, the Melbourne-based, twice-Grammy nominated, neo-soul, future-soul, ‘wondercore’ outlet have ended their long break with a new album, Mood Valiant, which was released on Brainfeeder and Ninja Tune.
Kaiyote’s music is the sort that bursts clouds away, it both soothes and thrills the listener in a wonderfully weird package.
Hiatus Kaiyote are Naomi ‘Nai Palm’ Saalfield on guitar and vocals, Paul Bender on bass, Simon Mavin on keys, and Perrin Moss on drums. The four of them are some of the most talented musicians around.
After Tawk Tomahawk of 2012 and Choose Your Weapon of 2015, Mood Valiant is the third instalment in the band’s arsenal. The album has melodic neo-soul tracks that sound like Erykah Badu, as well as showcasing classic frantic-yet-tight rhythmic progressions.
Mood Valiant is fantastic but it misses a little bit of the magic from the last two albums. The bar has been set a bit too high, for me anyway.
Maybe it's because the world has changed dramatically since 2015, or "The Before Time" as it can be called, but Mood Valiant does not quite deliver the pure excitement of Choose Your Weapon. This is all subjective though, objectively it is a wonderful album, and any new music from Hiatus Kaiyote is always a bonus.
The fact that we have the album at all is a blessing after Nai Palm’s tragic diagnosis with breast cancer. "I became so acutely aware of my mortality," she says. After a mastectomy that saved Naomi’s life, Paul Bender said: "I’ve never seen anyone go through something like that and be so triumphant, vibrant, present, grateful."
The album opens on lush strings and birdcalls on ‘Flight of the Tiger Lily’ before phasing into ‘Sip Into Something Soft’. The keys are gorgeous in this tune with a fine groove between bass and drums as is typical of the band, sitting perfectly beneath Nai Palm’s vocals.
‘Chivalry is Not Dead’ is one of my favourite tracks, which came out as a single shortly before Mood Valiant’s release. The song premise feels like classic Kaiyote content, it’s about the mating rituals of leopard slugs and seahorses. While we’re at it: leopard slugs turn fluorescent while seahorses lock tails and dance.
‘And We Go Gentle’ was another personal favourite, a melodic piece of neo-soul, which reminded me of Badu. As much as I love the band’s explorations into shifting time signatures and medley-structured songs, it’s also nice to hear a four-to-the-floor song with a fine melody and hip-hop groove. The bass in this one is simply astounding.
‘Get Sun’ was the first single released and is up there in the Kaiyote canon. Arthur Verocai added the blossoming horns and strings, giving the track a vibrant colour.
Hiatus Kaiyote worked on this track with Verocai after a trip to Rio de Janeiro in 2019. Bender says: "We had recorded the song ‘Get Sun’ and it already sounded good. We had no idea what he had written for it." After Verocai played his horn and strings section to the band, Bender recalls: "Tears were running down my face."
The ‘Get Sun’ message is even more apt after a bleak winter (for the northern hemisphere that is).
‘All The Words We Don’t Say’ is more of an expansive, experimental tune. A throbbing synth introduces it before a funky groove between guitar, bass and drums. I’ve found I've been enjoying this song the more times I listen.
An instrumental outro concludes the sixth song on the record before a transitory track called ‘Hush Rattle’, which had a mild Legend of Zelda flavour to it.
‘Rose Water’ was a great and interesting tune in 5/4, which was born out of Simon Mavin experimenting around that particular time signature. The 5/4 works perfectly, with the piano rippling in and out like water. Mavin provides a beautiful outro to the song.
The ninth track is the second single that Hiatus Kaiyote released prior to Mood Valiant. ‘Red Room’ is another neo-soul groove, with tight parts between bass and drums at its foundation. The lyrics from Nai Palm depict some lovely imagery of the sunset breaking into a bedroom. "It feels like I’m inside a flower," she sings, "it feels like I’m inside my eyelids."
This song came about from a spontaneous groove between bassist Paul Bender and drummer Perrin Moss. It’s a nice song that works well within the album, but I wouldn't say it's my all-time favourite within the Kaiyote canon. Although I haven’t actually listened to it during sunset yet.
‘Sparkle Tape Break Up’ came about through Simon Mavin’s idea for a tapestry of synth layers, which work really well under Nai Palm’s lyrics.
My other favourite track came in the shape of ‘Stone or Lavender’, which takes the energy and pace out of the album to a beautifully slow song of peace. Simon Mavin’s piano part is amazing and Nai Palm shows off her uniquely wonderful voice, while the strings add the emotive spark to the tune.
Mood Valiant concludes on ‘Blood and Marrow’, a playful tune with a nice bass part and keys. It’s almost Mario Kart-esque, in the best way possible. Simon Mavin explained this track to be his favourite: "It’s a classic Hiatus studio song that’s got beautiful exploration and mystery."
Nai Palm speaks of this last track as being a great source of comfort for her in a tough time. "This was post-surgery. I lost my breast. Four months later I lost my parrot, Charlie, who was like my bird-child. Losing Charlie, I grieved him more than I grieved losing my titty. Before he died, we were watching all the Disney films together, so that’s the reason the song has this kind of Disney sonic palette."
Mood Valiant comes out in the wake of two health crises: Nai Palm’s battle with breast cancer and of course the COVID-19 Pandemic. During a lockdown, Hiatus Kaiyote found more time to work on the nuts and bolts of the album, resulting in the final space-soul product that is Mood Valiant.
In many ways, Mood Valiant is a celebration of life. Nai Palm says: "When you think your life is going to be taken away from you, it makes you think about who you are. I guess after the breast cancer scare I decided that I needed to prove to life that the offering I have is genuine. My only wish is to live and offer my experience of time and beauty."
Although I think the album does not quite match the awe of Tawk Tomahawk and Choose Your Weapon, that is only because of how high the bar has been set. I'm sure many people would put Mood Valiant down as the best Kaiyote album yet, and I won't argue with that. It's all taste after all.
The main thing is Hiatus Kaiyote are back, the hiatus is over, and the music world looks a little bit brighter for it.
"Everyone’s been through some big challenges. I feel like we charged through the mud to get this thing done. And there’s just this valiant, victorious feeling, coming out of the storm into calm waters," says bassist Paul Bender. "The sun is shining, we see the shore. We did that! I feel proud of the way this sounds, the emotional depth of it. And I hope that it brings people some sort of comfort in this hard time."
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