Album Review: Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant

[Brainfeeder/Ninja Tune; 2021]

It’s taken Hiatus Kaiyote a good chunk of time to follow-up 2015’s Choose Your Weapon. It’s been a tumultuous six years weren’t easy for the Melbourne band; solo records were released by just about every band member, they’ve received Grammy nominations had their worked sampled copiously by big names like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Beyonce and Jay-Z, and even Anderson .Paak. But, while on tour in 2018, lead singer Naomi ‘Nai Palm’ Saalfield was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Recording for their third record Mood Valiant halted, naturally, as Nai Palm focused on recovering from the same disease that took her mother. The rollercoaster that is cancer is powerful enough to defeat even the most resilient, but Nai Palm hopped back to Australia and went under for a life-saving mastectomy. She’s now come back stronger than ever. It’s this indelible force that is felt on Mood Valiant, a record so full of energy it could power all of Australia.

With her naturally soulful voice, Nai Palm evokes the likes of Aaliyah and Janelle Monae, doing so with the same zeal as Alicia Keys. The damage felt in her quivering voice can be attributed to her drastic upbringing that found her orphaned at age 13 when her father died in a house fire – only two years after her mother passed. She was homeless by 15. Every hardship that life has tossed at Nai Palm she has survived, so when she belts about “a way to get sun when your heart’s not open” on the thrilling “Get Sun”, you can’t help but feel the words ring incredible true for her.

Mood Valiant is the culmination of a half-decade of setbacks, but you wouldn’t realize that from the sounds this collective has produced. Vibrant horn sections, the rawest and funkiest tribal beats, and Nai Palm’s prevailing vocals all work cohesively. There’s nary a millisecond lost on Mood Valiant that isn’t recouped by whirlwind guitar work or a kind of gypsy punk disguised as rockabilly. All this blending of styles and genres would normally produce a big mess, but Hiatus Kaiyote have been perfecting their approach for a decade now, and as a result it comes as second nature to them.

“Red Room” shows off the band’s ability to dial it back to a downtempo sway, leaning heavily into their R&B influences like Erykah Badu and Prince. The simplicity of “Red Room” doesn’t make it dull though; Paul Bender’s basslines hook us in and drag us to the end, and Perrin Moss’ single drum taps are underlined by Simon Mavin’s keys for a truly democratically assembled standout. This is a band who have become a family over the years – Bender was there to greet Nai Palm after her procedure even – and the completion of Mood Valiant brought the band a lot of solace and closure. It makes all the hardships worth it to finally have their best album to date out into the world.

Surviving as they have, Hiatus Kaiyote sound livelier than before. Every inch of Mood Valiant drips with love and togetherness for the band, with no single contributor stealing the show for very long. Nai Palm can sing about something as unusual as being a horny slug or seahorse on “Chivalry is Not Dead”, but her words are never hung out to dry, they’re always complemented by Bender, Moss, and Mavin. This is a four-piece in every sense of the word, a band with unlimited potential thanks to their dedication to not just music but to each other.