Nothing short of a treat
Martin Leitch
12:18 5th July 2021

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If you're one amongst those intrigued by the developments of the contemporary soul scene,Hiatus Kaiyote are likely to be a familiar name to you - even if you haven't necessarily heard either their 2012 debut Tawk Tomahawk, or 2015's breakthrough success Choose Your Weapon.

As exercises in raw passion, as much as declarations of songwriting finesse, both were records which won their devoted cult followings by virtue of originality, resourcefulness and - most of all - sheer enthusiasm. Although such qualities are by no means absent at any point across Mood Valiant - the group's long-awaited third outing - its songs are tempered by a greater nuance than those which comprised its predecessors.

If nothing else, the album marks a triumph of maturation in the face of adversity; it's never easy for a well-liked band to return after a lengthy absence (six years, in Hiatus Kaiyote's case) - much less so in the midst of a global pandemic which long ago put the kibosh on large-scale touring. It's easy to imagine, therefore, that Mood Valiant's songs could've fallen flat; that they might well have seemed lacking somehow, as though the band - trapped, as they were, in a vacuum outside of the typical album-tour-album cycle - might've found themselves limited by a certain disconnect from their prospective audience. Yet that hasn't happened - not at all; the half-decade silence which preceded Mood Valiant hasn't dulled its Melbourne-based authors' compositional smarts and external forces haven't strong-armed them into adopting a more conservative sonic approach. Such factors have, instead, coalesced to inform Hiatus Kayote's best album so far.

It's the band's heady - if not downright decadent - audio trickery which serves as Mood Valiant's defining trait. Hiatus Kaiyote's songs are mutable, effervescent things - each one a series of sumptuous, velveteen crescendos wrought in buzzing notes and ricocheting rhythms. They aren't catchy as such - there's far too much going on at any given moment to allow the band the straight-laced presentation of the best pop songs, even if they're more than capable of penning a great hook - but these songs are certainly accessible. Mood Valiant is that rarest of things: an experimental record which welcomes its listeners into its inner realm with open arms; engrossing, rewarding - and often even downright lavish - this is an album which is as easy to approach as it is to fall head over heels for.

Much as it's tempting to direct the bulk of praise towards frontwoman Nai Palm - a vocalist whose nuanced, dynamic delivery lends Hiatus Kaiyote much of their heart - to overlook the originality and sophistication of the arrangements found on any one of Mood Valiant's songs would be to do the band at large a considerable disservice. They play well together, performing with the kind of evident ease which comes as the inevitable result of a decade's worth of collaboration. As odd as it is engrossing and as immediately gratifying as it is complex in its execution, Mood Valiant is testament to Hiatus Kaiyote's considerable skills as purveyors not only of sleekly-presented neo-soul but also as architects of a sound rather harder to place on the musical map.

Recently added to the roster of Flying Lotus' prestigious Brainfeeder records, it's evident that both Hiatus Kaiyote and the label to which they've signed have put a considerable amount of effort into the packaging and presentation of Mood Valiant's vinyl release. This really only makes sense; it feels entirely appropriate that the album should boast an art direction as rich as the music itself. True to that, the version we're looking at here is packaged in a stout gatefold sleeve manufactured from a sturdy cardstock which feels reasonably weighty in hand. More notably, though, the album's abstract artwork has been emblazoned with reflective metallic inlays of silver and red, as well as embossed accents - and, most unusually of all, brail on the front cover. Such visual flairs set Mood Valiant's presentation apart from the competition, yet even these traits seem modest in comparison to the sheer quantity of inserts included with this release. Although it's the LP-sized full colour lyric booklet which stands as the most impressive of the album's extras, a set of six Polaroid-style cardboard inserts round off Mood Valiant's presentation with sufficient aplomb to set it out as one of the most distinctively packaged releases we've seen in quite some time.

Evidently keen not to allow the vinyl record itself to appear modest by comparison, Brainfeeder have seen fit to issue Mood Valiant in a few different colour variants, in addition to the ubiquitous standard black wax pressing. The version that we're reviewing here is the glow in the dark variant - a fairly unusual pressing which appears similar to a cloudy clear vinyl record during daylight but which does indeed appear luminescent at night. Considering that Hiatus Kaiyote's preferred brand of sensual neo-soul seems tailormade for late night sonic sojourns, it's a colour variant which seems entirely appropriate. Having said that, it isn't difficult to find vociferous griping around glow in the dark wax on any number of vinyl-centric internet forums and discussion pages; many would have you believe that such pressings are noisier than standard black vinyl releases as a rule - an idea confidently disproved by the clean audio throughout our glow in the dark pressing of Mood Valiant.

Indeed, the act of dropping the stylus into the groove of this particular release yields impressively tidy audio, free of any notable issues in the case of our copy - a fact which should hardly come as a surprise considering that the record has been manufactured by Germany's Optimal Media. They're a steadfastly popular pressing plant whose output tends to be set amongst the more impressive of the currently active European vinyl pressing plants. Couple that with Mood Valiant's well-mastered audio and you have the recipe for a truly engrossing listen. As both a welcome return from a cult-favourite act and a generously-presented artefact fit for the admiration of even the band's most devoted followers, neither the album itself nor its vinyl release are anything short of a treat.

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