Album Review : Hiatus Kaiyote soar with ‘Mood Valiant’

The Breakdown

Mood Valiant is a odyssey of love, insight, unity and bravery.
Brainfeeder / Ninja Tune 8.9

Hiatus Kaiyote return in 2021 with their new album Mood Valiant, on Brainfeeder/Ninja Tune. The twice-Grammy-nominated band is comprised of Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield (guitar, vocals), Paul Bender (bass), Simon Mavin (keys), and Perrin Moss (drums), and the new album is the follow up to their 2015 album ‘Choose Your Weapon’, which Rolling Stone described as “a stunning step up” and took them from Glastonbury and Fuji Rock, to rocking the Roots Picnic, to selling out the Sydney Opera House. The new project comes after being sampled on songs by The Carters (Beyonce & Jay-Z), Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Chance The Rapper, and Drake—with whom Nai Palm collaborated on his Scorpion album. Before we go any further, it’s important to pause and take in the process and journey this album took to create.

It originally began on the road, as they added new material to their sets in support of Choose Your Weapon. By the fall of 2018, The backing tracks had largely been laid, ready for Nai’s vocals. Then, during a brief swing through the U.S., Hiatus’s frontwoman was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother’s death from the same disease was never far from her mind. Nai rushed back to Australia and into the hospital, where she underwent a life-saving mastectomy.  As she recovered, the band turned back to their work with altered perspectives. Her lyrics, even those written before her illness, took on a prescient quality. 

“When you think your life is going to be taken away from you, it makes you think about who you are,” Nai says. “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.”

That didn’t stop the band’s resilient, defiant and one could say ‘Valiant’ nature. A trip to Rio de Janeiro in late 2019 to work with legendary Brazilian artist/arranger Arthur Verocai culminated in the authentic, fresh voice of the entire album. The band had recorded ‘Get Sun,’ (we loved it already here at Backseat ), and gave it to Verocai. It already sounded good,” says Bender, “[but] we had no idea what he had written for it.” What resulted was a sweet, beautiful release after listening to the horn and string sessions he had created for the band, who were so pleased they pulled an all-nighter in the studio, which resulted in two epic tracks: the stunning ballad ‘Stone or Lavender’; and that track I know I’ll be dancing to all summer, ‘Red Room’. Perhaps intentionally following in these sporadic footsteps of creation, the completion of Mood Valiant struck a ‘Great Pause’, a great term coined by the band. The songs saw a reshift, remix and recreation take place, which Nai claims evoked the carefree spirit of her mother, Suzie Ashman. A single mom, often trekking back and forth between her two ‘Valiant’ station wagons – one white, one black – and depending on her ‘mood’ chose to drive one. In other words: the album, like Nai’s mother’s spirit, is a mood.

Beaming with sun, the entire album is truly something of a sublime and masterful concoction: I’ve always admired the virtuous yet familiar playing of all band members, led by the truly out-of-this-world vocals from Nai. Having seen them perform at Brighton’s Love Supreme Festival, the band’s ability to start off with a crazy 7/4 groove, then shifting into a trip-hop soulful vibe backed by perfect harmonic sequences just blew me away, as it does on this album. A true musical adventure, it soars in compositional sound backed by Verocai’s strings, making simple sounds feel complex, and vice versa. ‘Rose Water’, for instance, feels like a jam, but really is a carefully mapped out depiction of a sort of pause and reset we’ve all been feeling this year. ‘Blood and Marrow’ is an an emotional wrecking ball of a song, created after Nai’s surgery. It celebrates the aftermath of grief, which is joy.

That’s what Hiatus Kaiyote scream of: musical adventure, effortlessly swimming in the sea of every single fathomable emotion. In what otherwise would have been a tiring and difficult musical mash-up to follow, such as ‘All The Words We Don’t Say’ cascades into a relentless plea for people to pay attention and pause. The band have managed to follow the words we don’t say, and turn them into gold. ‘Rose Water’ is one of the more calm songs on the album, beautifully apt in capturing those little trinkets of calm we crave – an anthem for Mama Earth; I imagine Nai would have wanted it to be so. ” Stone or Lavender” has got to be my personal favourite of these tracks. Acoustic, clear and majestic, we finally hear a stripped down version of the band’s otherwise big and beautiful sound. The strings once again just lift Nai’s voice to her utmost potential. I forget these guys hail from Australia; that song feels like it was born and bred somewhere in a small Gospel town, and truly speaks to the power of music and its ability to transcend.

“The title of the album really encapsulates the whole spectrum of the journey,” Bender adds. “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 storm into calm waters. 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.”

It most certainly did, and more. Mood Valiant is a odyssey of love, insight, unity and bravery.

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