“Attention is the beginning of devotion,” wrote poet and personal hero Mary Oliver, something that has held true in my experience. It is certainly a cornerstone of Hiatus Kaiyote’s work, an Australian self-dubbed “future soul” band that released its third album, Mood Valiant, on June 25. The more attention the listener pays, the wider this LP opens itself to you.
Each detail falls into its puzzle place, but without feeling planned. Hiatus Kaiyote doesn’t have to give up its sense of spontaneous fun to create musical and lyrical intricacies. Instead, the songs all feel naturally produced, as if they already existed within the band members and some magnet is just drawing them out. Any sense of obligation or forcedness would go against the band’s ethos.
Which is not to say that this record is approachable. They are musicians’ musicians, complex and out to please themselves and others like them with their work, rather than any sort of record company or radio station listeners. A group you would hear jazz band members obsessing over, they remain cool, tattooed and wrapped in Australian wilderness, both in their appearances and in their lyrics. They make further use of their unique style of syncopation, with songs like “Rose Water” and “Sparkle Tape Break Up” matching some rhythmic pattern that seems to be apparent to only the band. The work follows in the strangely shaped footsteps they have left themselves in their prior work, certainly breaking new ground but continuing to leave that tangerine taste that indicates their unique music style. It does not outdo their sophomore record Choose Your Weapon, but only because that was a masterpiece; Mood Valiant is still an incredible piece of work from a band who can’t seem to do anything wrong. There are the occasional shortcomings, such as latin-flavored “Get Sun ft. Arthur Verocai” which, while an incredible first single, doesn’t truly fit into the album. The techno-boppy “Blood and Marrow” is also a strange choice for a closer, especially when preceded by “Stone Or Lavender,” whose grandiosity seems to bring things to a natural end.
The newest album does venture further into electronic territory, the echoing tones of “All The Words We Don’t Say” and especially the electronic production of “Chivalry Is Not Dead” serving as proof of success. This is novel for the band, not that that has ever daunted them before. The band continues to use layering as a primary signifier of their work, to different effects. Lead singer Nai Palm’s swaying, bendy voice often sings with a chorus of herself over complex bass lines and prominent piano. With two members being professionally trained jazz musicians, and self-trained Nai Palm raised on an eclectic mix of music from all over the world, it follows that their work is a sensory jumble so intense that it is difficult to pick out individual influences.
The occasional use of orchestral arrangements, present in songs like “Flight of the Tiger Lily,” “Get Sun ft. Arthur Verocai” and “Stone and Lavender,” create running ribbons throughout the album, tying the start and end of the work together. They allow for a wide, sweeping feeling, present especially on “Stone and Lavender,” which is a bit more accessible and traditional than their other songs, with a slightly Aretha Franklin-like tilt to it. The comfort of this tune feels like the grandest hug one will ever receive, filled with solace as it encourages you to feel the emotions that make you need the embrace in the first place.
The lyrics in this song and many others on the album serve as yet another testament to Hiatus Kaiyote’s thoughtfulness. “Red Room” provides a gorgeous feeling of self balance, even though the tune is somewhat uneasy, with the lyrics, “I got a red room, it is the red hour/When the sun sets in my bedroom/Feels like I’m inside a flower/Feels like I’m inside my eyelids.” “A way to get sun when your heart’s not open” was the chorus to the first single, “Get Sun,” while “Stone or Lavender” draws you a bit closer, beginning powerfully, “Belong to love, please don’t bury us unless we’re seeds/Learn to forgive, you know very well it’s not easy.” Growth is emphasized overall, searching outside yourself in all different kinds of natural environments and asking you to accept love in this act.
After all, powerful art is associative art, as you take it and form connections to yourself and to other things you love and observe in life. The beauty in Hiatus Kaiyote’s newest work comes not when you analytically break it down into individual notes and riffs and pieces, but when you let its details naturally attach to different memories and sensations of yours. How the joyful swooping of Nai Palm’s voice, or the steady support of the bass, or the calls of the birds and soft, intimate conversation in the intro make one feel, how these sit on the listener’s skin and enter their ears — it is these kinds of full-body experiences that make the album the tour-de-force that it is. What do the string arrangements remind you of in your everyday life? How does Nai Palm’s conversation with a friend pointing out birds in the beginning make you think of what your parents would point out to you as a child as they helped you learn about the world? Attention, after all, is key. The details and notes and words seem to grow like vines, extending out of your earbuds and into your body, combining the music and you.
Daily Arts writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.