Lockdown anxiety was a very real phenomenon, the end point of a culture soaked in over-information. Whether that’s daily government updates or your weird uncle blaming the entire thing on Bill Gates on the family Whatsapp, 2020 has seen to sheer physical weight of information at our disposal reach crippling levels.
Perhaps this is one reason why Sault have felt so refreshing. Just 12 weeks ago the group – if indeed they are a group – placed their double album ‘Untitled (Black Is)’ online, a project stripped of context, shorn of background information. We know from the credits that Little Simz and Michael Kiwanuka producer Inflo is involved, while internet rumour widely holds that Cleo Sol is predominantly utilised on vocals.
Aside from that, however, we know nothing. Nothing, that is, except for the music – a series of soulful hymns, the arrangement reduced to a skeletal chassis, these moody – in every sense, given the frequent comparisons to ESG – outbursts that seemed to uncannily reflect the paranoia and trauma that seeped out of every pore during those summer months.
Their creativity undaunted, Sault have just shared another new album, and while ‘Untitled (Rise)’ doesn’t help sketch the picture in any further, it might just raise the creativity levels up to another, unfathomable notch. Shorter and more succinct than its direct predecessor, it matches dubby post-punk leaning basslines to gospel inflections that feel like seminal early 70s troupe the Voices Of East Harlem. – ‘I Just Want To Dance’ is an ode to the transcendent power of the clubbing experience, while the music itself is riddled with constraint – perhaps due to lockdown, perhaps also due to London’s habit of closing down club spaces.
‘Scary Times’ is a cautious reflection of this uncanny era, while songs such as ‘Street Fighter’ rival the directness, the undaunted potency of those initial releases. At times, there’s a curiously trans-Atlantic feel – previously held to be a London phenomenon, Sault are increasingly gaining an international platform. These are globalised times, of course – the American voiced spoken word segments recall news bursts from Black Lives Matter protests – but equally, post-punk was always a cross-ocean conversation. Just look at ESG, who had a close association with Manchester’s Factory imprint, let’s not forget.
Yet it’s not all off piste dancefloor moves. While ‘Untitled (Rise)’ seethes with system energy – the odd Brazilian inflection to the rhythm, the 80s boogie shimmer – it also utilises a diverse palette of sounds, moving from guttural soul through to jazz. ‘The Black & Gold’ for example, crinkles into place with those glacial Bill Evans piano notes.
A portrait of a project in perpetual motion, ‘Untitled (Rise)’ taps into the cultural conduits that have framed 2020 – the grief, the paranoia, the endless stunted anger, unable to be fully expressed. It’s a phenomenal record, undoubtedly one of the finest to be released this year – in its mood, kineticism, and an adorned darkness, ‘Untitled (Rise)’ captures something truly remarkable about this chaotic era.
Words: Robin Murray
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