Photo by Tré Koch
Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Mood Valiant, the third record from Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote.
Mood Valiant has been six years in the making, with solo projects, a breast cancer diagnosis for Hiatus Kaiyote’s lead singer and guitarist, Naomi Saalfield (aka Nai Palm) — whose cancer is now in remission after a mastectomy — and a pandemic interrupting and influencing it’s creation.
Saalfield told NPR, “I'm super stoked that we have new music out, because I became obsessed with the concept that I was going to die before we finished it,” and that music was an essential processing tool for what she was going through.
The name of the album references the cars Saalfield’s mother owned; according to the record’s origin story, Saalfield’s mother had two Valiant Safari station wagons, one black and one white, and would choose which one to drive depending on her mood. Saalfield explained, “She usually drove the white one, but on the days you knew not fuck with her, she drove the bad-ass black one.”
Saalfield also said in an interview with The Guardian, “Valiant is also such a beautiful word. It has a gorgeous righteousness to it and we want people to feel valiant and beautiful, regardless of what mood they’re in, when they experience the music.” Saalfield’s mother died of breast cancer when she was 11, and that loss, along with Saalfield’s own experience with cancer, heavily informed the record — the band recorded most of the album, aside from her vocals, back in 2018 before her diagnosis and treatment.
But Mood Valiant is not a dark, mournful album. In record’s visuals, a white Valiant Safari station wagon is featured prominently — adorned with the album title, graffiti-like, sprawling across it. Following personal and worldwide events, the band could’ve driven the black Valiant Safari, but they chose optimism and hope instead.
“Flight Of The Tiger Lily” gets the album off to a soft, otherworldly start, introducing the strings that flow throughout the album, most notably on “Get Sun (feat. Arthur Verocai)” and “Stone Or Lavender,” which he also arranged. Verocai’s strings — on “Get Sun” and “Stone Or Lavender,” in particular — contribute to the complexity and polished sound to this record, which is, above all, impeccably arranged.
Interlude “Sip Into Something Soft,” eases us from that gentle opening into the unexpectedly electronic “Chivalry Is Not Dead.” It would be a more straightforwardly sexual song if its references to intimacy were not filtered through slugs, seahorses and hummingbirds. The chorus is a distinctly Hiatus Kaiyote funk-electronic crescendo of sound. At the outro is Saalfield repeating, “I wanna be close to your molecules,” which is oddly endearing after a year of a severe mass lacking in physical affection.
“Hush Rattle” is a softer, shorter interlude, which transitions from the higher energy first half of the album into the more contemplative back half. Standouts of this half include single “Red Room,” a moody showcase of Saalfield’s range that feels a little too relevant post-quarantine, and sweeping ballad “Stone Or Lavender.” With Saalfield pleading, “Please believe me when I say / Some day it’ll be OK,” the penultimate track feels like the album’s emotional peak. The album closer, “Blood And Marrow,” is comparatively obscure, but a nice palate cleanser.
Mood Valiant is Hiatus Kaiyote at their best — so take their advice, choose optimism and go listen to this stunning record, close to the molecules of someone you love.
Theda Berry is a Brooklyn-based writer and the former Editor of VMP. If she had to be a different kind of berry, she’d pick strawberry.