Hiatus Kaiyote – ‘Mood Valiant’: Album Review

With Mood Valiant, Hiatus Kaiyote has crafted an experience that reflects personal emotion, with each track a vessel to carry a mood.

If you were to take a snapshot of your own face while listening to the latest album by Hiatus Kaiyote, you’d be horrified. Neck back, everything tensed, eyes squinted and lips pursed, this musical experience has transformed you into a being of pure stank, and you can’t help but embrace it. With a rhythm section sharp enough to cut diamonds, and mystical vocal harmonies that will have you swinging like a hammock, Mood Valiant pierces the soul and escapes through the hips.

In preparation for the big release, the band released a trio of singles; Red Room, Sun’s Out and Chivalry Is Not Dead, giving their audience the tiniest tasting of what was to come. While the tracks do indeed slap on their own, in the context of the full album is where they really shine, making Mood Valiant an inspirational listen from start to finish.

Band Shot of Hiatus Kaiyote
Photo: KCRW

With Mood Valiant, Hiatus Kaiyote continues to embrace the marriage of jazz and funk while using these styles as vehicles to explore completely new musical territories. The new release has been a long time coming, with their last album Choose Your Weapon released six years ago in 2015. Choose Your Weapon became iconic for its sampling potential, having been used by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Chance The Rapper. Such a long hiatus between albums might make you think Hiatus Kaiyote’s new release may end up feeling lethargic or tentative, but Mood Valiant is anything but.

Making the album’s thematic consistency only more impressive is the disruptive adversity the band faced during its conception. The band’s frontwoman Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, which brought the recording to a halt. Proving her personal determination and strength, Nai Palm cited the entire experience as a shift in perspective for the group.

“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.”

The album owes its title to these experiences, along with the spirit of Nai Palm’s mother.

“My mother had two Valiant station wagons, iconic, vintage Aussie cars,” Nai says. “One was white and one was black. And depending on what mood she was in, she would drive one or the other. She was a single mother with six kids: If she drove the black one, you knew not to fuck with her.”

Nai Palm, of Hiatus Kayote
Frontwoman of Hiatus Kaiyote, Nai Palm.
Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Redferns

Unlike the disruptiveness of Hiatus Kaiyote’s recording experience, Mood Valiant flows seamlessly between tracks. It begins by gently easing the listener in with the short introduction of Flight of the Tiger Lily, before oozing sexual energy with Sip Into Something Soft. This track perfectly blends soft intimacy with a jagged beat. The bass drum foot of drummer Perrin Moss has the power to realign your heartbeat.

Get Sun (feat. Arthur Verocai) is the bright, dancey high point of Mood Valiant, with thick, sun-soaked harmonies from the keys, strings and vocals that melt you to the core, while uncontrollably shaking away to the intricacies of the rhythm, an experience that is much less painful and far more satisfying than it sounds. The track slowly fades into barebones of rhythm towards the end, with various percussion parts adding to the raw and visceral experience that the track provides.

My personal favourite track of the album, Rose Water, is one of the best examples of how tight and synergised Hiatus Kaiyote are as a group. The flowing harmonies and swaying vocals dance upon the stark funky rhythms of the bass and drums, lining up for hits and accents throughout, as a reminder that this is the perfect product of organised chaos. Rose Water will send you into an ethereal trance, leaving you with the inability to do anything but embrace all that enters your ears, fully capturing your mind.

Mood Valiant takes many a twist and turn throughout its journey, with the second last track Stone Or Lavender dramatically softening the mood. Infused with a deep soul, the lush slow piano blows the buttery vocals around like a breeze through leaves. Not once do the piano and vocals lose their unified force, their timbre and dynamics flowing hand in hand, with strings weaving their way in between. This is a song that sounds and feels special.

Blood And Marrow closes off the record, introducing a pulsing heartbeat of synth and 808s, on which the vocals and piano are built. Several vocal lines dance around each other, creating an intricate bed harmony. The percussion slowly builds too, adding bass drums and glassy taps throughout before returning to the simple rhythm of the beginning, and eventually, ending sharply to mark the end of an odyssey.

Mood Valiant has made an intense and strong impression. The stanky rhythms and gold-dipped melodies are impossible to keep still to, and when the album ends, all I want to do is start it again from the beginning.

Luckily for us, it won’t be long before we can catch Hiatus Kaiyote live, with the group performing live as part of 2021’s Vivid LIVE program in Sydney in August.

Mood Valiant by Hiatus Kaiyote is now available to stream on all platforms, and physical copies are available for purchase on the band’s website.