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CD of the Month: Hiatus Kaiyote - "Mood Valiant"

Australia is full of high quality musical exports these days, from the meticulously-crafted psychedelic pop of Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala, to the more prolific and experimentalist crew behind King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Elsewhere in kaleidoscopic sounds (and unique band names) lies the future soul of Hiatus Kaiyote. 2021 brings their first album in six years, and in the that time the band has ridden the highs of Grammy nominations, signing to beat music luminary Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, a truly rightful home for the group, and being sampled by hip-hop greats like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Beyoncé & Jay-Z, and the lows of lead vocalist/guitarist Nai Palm’s 2018 breast cancer diagnosis, a genetic aftershock to the childhood loss of her mother to the same disease. Their latest album, Mood Valiant, is named after Palm’s mother’s twin Plymouth station wagons (one black, one white), that she would choose daily by mood, and was written during Palm’s cancer treatments. The album is built on more references to her childhood, and the natural world that she’s grown to love since then, and is remarkable in its joy and wonder given its turbulent creation.

The four members of the band are consummate musicians hands down, earning praise from the likes of Questlove and Prince early in their now ten-year career. I’ve seen the genre-mash “math jazz” applied to this band, which tracks well when you hear the twists and turns pulled off by the quartet with aplomb, cycling through chord changes and rhythmic shifts with an ease that shields their difficulty. There are fine examples of this throughout the record, like the mid-album cut “All The Words We Don’t Say,” with its rapid fire hits punctuating overtop snaking synth bass line, to the first single, “Get Sun,” which features luscious string swells arranged by Brazilian jazz composer Arthur Verocai. Hiatus Kaiyote built their name on this brand of elastic, complex neo soul, but don’t let that make you think the band can’t just lay down a groove and stay put. The track “Red Room” illustrates this perfectly, as the band creates a simple but smooth bed to showcase Nai Palm’s soulful vocal talents across her range. The song is about her childhood bedroom that would glow red every evening at sunset, a rumination on the beauty of nature and light. The theme of light comes up earlier in the album too, in “And We Go Gentle,” a song about moths and their search for light, whether it be by fire or even an iPhone flash.

The album ends softly, with two tracks musing on Nai Palm’s 2018 cancer development, and another decade-end tragedy, the 2019 passing of her longtime parrot companion, named Charlie Parker. These two songs reveal the music’s emotional places underneath its carefully-crafted exterior, that even the progressive sounds of future soul don’t forget the second and very important part of that genre tag, the soul. Fans of Hiatus Kaiyote have been waiting some time for their latest transmission from across the sea, and in Mood Valiant, the time spent longing has paid off with an album that’s a tribute to their resilience and continuing triumph.

You can receive a copy of this album, and support WYSO, your home for music discovery, public service journalism and so much more, by making a contribution today.

Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.