REVIEW: Hiatus Kaiyote - Mood Valiant
Updated: Feb 1, 2022
Favorite Track: "All The Words We Don’t Say" Least Favorite Track: "Hush Rattle"
It’s always a thrill to hear a band with equally skilled, hyper-professional members. Bands like John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet, Pink Floyd, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were well-balanced, extraordinary, and successful groups who all had members who shine both collectively and individually. Similarly, the Australian neo-soul group Hiatus Kaiyote fits this description. Drummer Perrin Moss is a self-taught drummer who embodies that Questlove/Chris Dave laid back groove as well as other complex drummer grooves reminiscent of jazz giants like Elvin Jones and Jack DeJohnette. Keyboardist Simon Mavin is well-versed in jazz piano techniques as well as James Poyser/Stevie Wonder R&B harmony and comping. Bassist Paul Bender is the foundation of the group, knowing exactly when to lay back and when to kick the music into high gear. Finally, is vocalist and guitarist Naomi Saalfield, or better known as Nai Palm. She has one of the greatest vocal ranges seen in lead singers today, maintaining a powerful tone indefinitely as she harmonizes with her guitar and croons insane riffs. Together, the band flawlessly performs some of the most rhythmically and harmonically complex compositions seen from neo-soul groups in this day and age. Their magnus opus Choose Your Weapon captures the sound of four insanely gifted musicians creating music set to inspire chaos, wonder, and affinity. Songs like “By Fire” and “Swamp Thing” showcase their undeniable musical intensity while “Laputa” and “Fingerprints”show their dexterity for a breezy neo-soul sound. After six years, Hiatus Kaiyote has released their third album Mood Valiant, which not only sees them tackling more programmatic music, but also sees the group transform and unify to bring us incredible psychedelic neo-soul music for the body, mind, and soul.
One of the main problems with Hiatus Kaiyote’s previous works, especially in Choose your Weapon, is that the complexity was at times overbearing. Take the song “Molasses” for example. Nai Palm delves into a wonderful vocal performance that feels lost in the mix, with the other three members not doing much to support her singular, powerful voice. It’s really a loss for the whole group, especially since Nai Palm’s solo album Needle Paw shows just how much better she is when given freedom and space. Mood Valiant does an excellent job at allowing Nai Palm’s impeccable voice to be more of the centerpoint. The track “Stone or Lavender” is a piano ballad where Nai Palm’s riffs and inflections sound clearer and more authentic, not lost in overcompensating synth patches or drum grooves. All in all, her voice sounds supported and encouraged, especially in the last two minutes, where strings, bass, and piano give way to the wildly harmonized chorus that sings “I know I know I know I know/We can get over only if we wanna.” The unity in the band stretches farther than linking Nai Palm’s voice to the instrumental mix.
On “Red Room,” the band feels the tightest it ever has. A tight Questlove-esque groove introduces the song, joined by Paul Bender’s crisp bass line and some warm synth patches all below Nai Palm’s silky smooth voice. “I got a red room/It is the red hour when the sun sets in my bedroom” is a lyric that imagines that “golden hour” sunset vibe, and with how well it matches the groove, it is hard not to feel the warm glow of the sun's rays on your face as you relax on your back, eyes closed, saying “And I don’t wanna be/Anywhere but here.” Even on more rhythmically complex tracks, which Choose Your Weapon was spoiled with, Hiatus Kaiyote’s new found virtuosic unity is crystal clear. “Chivalry is Dead” is something we’ve never heard from them before, characterizing an almost dubstep soul sound that is pulled off with flying colors. From Mavin’s powerful and juicy synth sounds, to Perrin Moss and Bender’s locked-in groove that transports us through this almost polychromatic soundscape, and topping it all off with Nai Palm’s fiery, molten timbre, it makes for an exciting and stimulating track.
Mood Valiant has a multitude of stunning moments, which is to be expected seeing how much Hiatus Kaiyote has matured in their sound. “And We Go Gentle” is amazing not so much in intensity or dynamic, but in groove. This irrefutable bass and drum instrumental paired with strings, synths, and a beautiful voice that asks “Tell me, can I get a light?” mysteriously creeps into our ears. Nai Palm adds in more melodic content, singing “Moonlight, I see white sun glow/We go far and we go gentle,” lyrics that inspire warmth, invitation, and delicacy. The following track “Get Sun (feat. Arthur Verocai)” is a mixed bag of goodness, combining elements of Brazilian sound, courtesy of Brazilian mastermind Arthur Verocai, with the classic Hiatus Kaiyote soul groove. Poppy horn lines, sprinkly keys, beautifully layered strings, thick bass, a laid back but tight drum groove, and amazing harmonic layers by Nai Palm make for an infectious song through and through.
“All The Words We Don’t Say” is one of the more vibrant tracks across the project, beginning with this amazing bass performance by Paul Bender and an equally impressive syncopated groove by Perrin Moss. Nai Palm’s vocals enter after an abrupt beat drop, hinting to the group's approach to dubstep. The chorus sees the repetition of the song’s title, giving way to an empty space of harmonized vocals and color tones from each instrument in the band. The mastery of the whole track comes in the bridge, where the band builds to a point for Nai Palm to release all the pent-up power in her gut and let it out in an intense and beautiful tone. “Sparkle Tape Break Up” doesn’t capture the classic bedroom pop break up song, but the poetic lyricism does. “We need you love and not your deadly nightshade/Wait, Wait for the cards to fall into place/Blame it on the sun, turn your face” animates Nai Palm as a sultry and zealously deliberate lyricist, proven at various points across Mood Valiant. During the bridge, she gets more adventurous in the way she delivers the lyrics, singing “Maybe if I was hard and not so “I got a little bit, you got a little bit, we can get over it.” The instrumental of “Sparkle Tape Break Up” is another raw neo-soul groove, with lazy sounding snare and hi-hats, keyboard lines, and basslines, giving off this almost intoxicated, drunk attitude.
As coherent, focused, and united as Mood Valiant is, the hat is tipped to Hiatus Kaiyote and their devotion to continuously maturing their sound. They never run one idea into the ground, instead focusing on reinventing and transforming the “neo-soul” vocabulary they are so well-versed in. Each member poured their heart and soul into each of the twelve tracks, and while it is obvious how much harder they worked to create something outstanding in both simplicity and complexity, the love for their compositions and their members was never lost. Ultimately, Hiatus Kaiyote allowed themselves to be more than a jazz enthusiast's guilty pleasure music; from a collective standpoint, they certified their advanced skill and determination to make insanely engaging music.