Sault’s music became intertwined with the events of 2020. Emphatically politicised future soul, the inherent mystery behind the release – the identities of the studio conspirators have never been fully sketched out – seemed to magnify the potency of their artistry.
‘Nine’ is their first release in 2021, and it’s a project that seems haunted by past traumas. Whether it’s done in a subtle fashion - the interpolation of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on ‘London Gangs’ for instance – or the visceral monologue ‘Mike’s Story’, the project is about anger turned inwards, and the lingering impact that wounds both emotional and physical can have.
‘London Gangs’ picks up on the raw, rhythmic pulse that permeated Sault’s twin 2020 releases, ‘Untitled (Black Is)’ and ‘Untitled (Rise)’. Kind of like Can’s ‘Mushroom’ in communion with Erykah Badu’s ‘Mama’s Gun’, the ultra-dark percussive kick is aligned against testimony of the cyclical damage gang culture produces in London. Indeed, self-inflicted damage, and it’s connections to wider societal inequality and discrimination, is a marked theme on the project – take the self-medicating soliloquy ‘Alcohol’ or the sublime melancholy that drives ‘Bitter Streets’.
Much more defined than their full albums, ‘Nine’ is left deliberately raw, and open. The project’s two sides are framed by fragments: the 50 second ‘Haha’ and the blunt depiction of grief that unfurls in ‘Mike’s Story’. At times wholly direct, ‘Nine’ still finds room to add some light, and play with notions of identity – check out the Little Simz bolstered ‘You From London’ and the way it peels back outside notions of London life to offer some much-needed reality.
The project ends with perhaps its two strongest moments. ‘9’ revolves around a neat guitar line lifted straight from the Millennial R&B songbook, before a martial drum-beat intrudes upon the breathy vocal, one that promises “a miracle”. “Are you made of love?” it asks, before the music drifts away, leaving only that cyclical guitar line. - ‘Light’s In Your Hands’ is a gorgeous R&B torch song, one that emphatically discusses the need to keep moving, to keep trying, no matter the cost. Aligning the personal with the political - “so many promises that turn to lies” – it allows ‘Nine’ to end with the possibility of change, if only for ourselves.
A project that wrestles with complex ideas, ‘Nine’ never quite settles. Masterful in its softness of touch, Sault know when to apply and relieve pressure; at moments it can be intense, yet others are bathed in a beatific R&B halo. Easing the project outside the confines of those two excellent – and definitive – releases, ‘Nine’ is the point where Sault turn back towards the sun.
Words: Robin Murray
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