Album of the Week: SAULT — UNTITLED (Black Is)

Album of the Week returns with the London trio's empowered opus.
By    July 10, 2020

Will Schube ain’t with your moment unless it includes Black lives.

Sault’s music is so unendingly good that the anonymity of the group threatens to take away from the brilliance of their work. Like Sven Wunder, who I wrote about in this same column back in May, the first thing you want to do when listening to Sault is to figure out who, exactly, is the masterminds behind this concoction. There are a few tidbits available if unmasking the myth is of interest to you. They’re supposedly a trio that features London based artist Dean “Inflo” Wynton Josiah―who has worked with Michael Kiwanuka and Little Simz. Their new LP, UNTITLED (Black Is), was released in June via Forever Living Originals, which only has one other artist on the roster. These easily removable roadblocks to enjoying the music really don’t matter when you begin spinning UNTITLED, or revisit their beautiful albums from 2019, 5 and 7, released in May and September respectively.

Those two albums played into the seasons they were released in, providing a soundtrack for sweaty summer nights and imagined 24 hour discos. “Feel so Good” from 7 is a dub-heavy slow crawl with distorted vocals and a snare drum that sounds like a gunshot. There are Khruangbin vibes, but throughout the album, Sault sounds more natural than the funk Khruangbin produces. This music rises from the well of radical Black music, indebted to ‘70s funk and derivations of reggae while playing fast and loose with pop structures. It’s inherently political, “Living in America” is a polemic for our broken age, but UNTITLED takes a drastic step forward in engaging with the broken world that Black people have been fighting against for generations.

Perhaps it’s the particular moment we’re in, but Sault’s new album feels prescient and hits in a way that few others have. It’s deeply connected to the power of the Black movement bravely leading the charge against evil cops, broken institutions, and generational racism. At times, it sounds like the work they released on 5 and 7, but Sault’s sound has evolved on the new LP as well. “Hard Life” gorgeously slides into slippery, Dilla-inspired hip-hop production. Over a simple drum beat and an almost-undetectable bassline, a collection of layered vocals demand change and an acknowledgement that promised freedoms have been suffocated. The call-and-response vocals are chopped up and inserted in a way that recalls the late producer, and the vocals come from every direction in a way that mimics Dilla’s best work.

“Don’t Shoot Guns Down” sounds like it could have been featured in Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, playing with dub vibes and existing in an entirely different era than the one we’re living in now. The way the band moves in and out of styles is masterful, occupying and straddling multiple decades and themes within each song. Sault’s UNTITLED turns the idea of a band into a mixtape, assembling a collection of tunes that use lyrical motifs as a connecting dot and allowing the music to shape around loose guidelines. “Black Is” recalls early Shabazz Palaces, and with the mystery surrounding the group, Sault’s story is similar to the early days of Ish Butler’s latest project. The entire album is a stunning and staggering recalibration of modern music. It fits into the internet aesthetic that currently runs the show: all styles are fair game and masterful curation is indicative of expertise. UNTITLED is a crate-digger’s fantasy and unending nightmare, too.

How did one group bring together this body of work with such ease? Sault’s music is both effortless and extraordinarily powerful. They’ve emerged from nothing into a movement-defining, genre-agnostic behemoth. Our global moment is one of unending depression and unrelenting chaos. Sault has emerged from somewhere in the UK―we think―to capture this mayhem and infuse the struggle with desperate, unflinching beauty.

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