Hiatus Kaiyote are Grammy-nominated global tastemaker favourites. And yet, their highly-anticipated third album ‘Mood Valiant’ should bring the Melbourne avant-soul band a wider audience. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield, the quartet have absorbed fresh Latin American influences, which have accentuated their funkiness. On this record, they deliver more pop songs over noodly jazz grooves, but without abandoning any instrumental extravagance. The prelude ‘Flight Of The Tiger Lily’ is all strings and ambient sound recordings, a cinematic opening to the romantic and impassioned ‘Mood Valiant’.
Three years into their existence as a band, Hiatus Kaiyote found success with the hit ‘Nakamarra’, beloved by Questlove and Prince and later nominated for a Grammy. With 2015’s ‘Choose Your Weapon’, the group embraced synths and took their self-described “wondercore” sound into a psychedelic space. They were sampled by Drake, Kendrick Lamar and The Carters.
Hiatus Kaiyote weren’t swayed by the fame. In 2017, Saalfield presented the charmingly idiosyncratic solo project ‘Needle Paw’. Other members pursued side-gigs – keyboardist Simon Mavin, also a member of Emma Donovan’s band The Putbacks, produced Natalie Slade. There were personal trials, too: Saalfield was diagnosed with breast cancer, after losing her mother Suzie Ashman to the same illness in childhood. Not coincidentally, ‘Mood Valiant’ pays homage to the vintage black and white Valiant station wagons Ashman drove. But, like the white Valiant, the music is optimistic.
Now part of Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder stable, Hiatus Kaiyote sound recharged. ‘Mood Valiant’ radiates warmth, the band having ventured to Brazil to work alongside septuagenarian composer/arranger Arthur Verocai (while Hiatus Kaiyote were in Brazil, Saalfield spent time with the indigenous Varinawa community in the endangered Amazon forest).
The first single ‘Get Sun’, Hiatus Kaiyote’s take on bossa nova, bursts with strings and wind instruments, possibly a wonky nod to Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. Still, the lyrics are less festive than cautionary. Saalfield decries close-mindedness: “Surface will it suffice, the clay grows dry, but you keep your borders guarded / and the heights of which you own, feed me rhinestones, bowing into the void”.
Typically Hiatus Kaiyote perform songs live before cutting them, but this has its perils. ‘Choose Your Weapon’, modelled on a mixtape, featured 18 tracks (including soundscapey interludes) and was so sonically omnidirectional that it almost felt overwhelming. Hiatus Kaiyote remain maximalists, but ‘Mood Valiant’ is methodical and mapped-out. They offer pop numbers: ‘Chivalry Is Not Dead’ is playfully sexy synth-funk recalling Hiatus Kaiyote fan Prince. In contrast, ‘Stone Or Lavender’ is exquisite balladry with piano and more orchestration, with expressive vocalising and harmonies from Saalfield that could match Teena Marie.
Saalfield is an imaginative songwriter with a gift for transforming the deeply personal into the figuratively universal. The frontwoman’s whimsy – and husky late-night voice – comes through on the poetic ‘Red Room’, a mellow jam from the Rio de Janeiro sessions evoking the comfort of an old bedroom bathed in sunset. The (intentionally) elliptic ‘All The Words We Don’t Say’ is joyfully, cathartic Battles-esque math rock.
Then the closer ‘Blood And Marrow’, with electronic rhythms and samples of bat echolocation, is an ode to corporeality that is all the more empowering considering Saalfield’s health struggles: “You could get through to the blood and marrow / deeper than a cinder in snow / And silently / Bathe the body in silence… And let it eat you alive.”
Hiatus Kaiyote have journeyed far to create a restorative album that provides sanctuary, hope and possibility in uncertain times. Indeed, by solidifying their blend of poetry, soul and funk, ‘Mood Valiant’ stands as Hiatus Kaiyote’s most resonant album yet.
- Release date: June 25
- Record label: Brainfeeder/Ninja Tune