Sault – a semi-anonymous British collective – has already made its mark with four extraordinary albums in the space of two years. By publishing their works without much warning, not wanting to talk about their art, they have become a prolific left field team that sets the rules ablaze. Nine, their fifth album, is available to buy and stream for 99 days (until October 2). It’s pretty special too, especially since it’s an album about the experience of growing up in London that almost completely pokes fun at the capital’s rich history of music genres, both in black and white.
We are used to hearing these sad, angry and mischievous stories told like the fast beats of grime or 8-bit hip-hop. But Nine avoid the sounds synonymous with London; He only hints at dubstep and rave in passing. You also have to pinch yourself for the audacity of a track called Trap Life that contains 0% trap beats, the now dominant strain of hip-hop here as in the US On the contrary, Sault turns to warm Afro-Caribbean sounds and righteous anger manifests itself as chants on the playground. A hard-hitting song about London’s gang infrastructure sounds like the Block Rockin ‘Beats by Chemical Brothers.
Sault has always been confused. Nine follow their 2019 genre fusion albums, 5 other Seventh, and their twin 2020 records, Untitled (Black Is) other Untitled (Rise). The last two were passionate effusions in sync with last year’s international. Black lives are important protests. All offered an unexpectedly boxy retro sound: drums, funk bass and R&B rhythm, rogue analog keyboards, and a sampledelic aesthetic. Vocalists Cleo Sol (UK) and Kid Sister (US) were just as likely to sing as they were to sing or rap; African and Caribbean inflections were always present.
Along the Nine, Sault doubles down on this vinyl box digger vibe: a rolling pause here combined with an unexpected Beatles tilt there. The electronic Afro-funk of ESG or Tom Tom Club still figures prominently in the mix, as it has on all Sault records, but there are songs here, like the lovely Bitter Streets, that recall, among all things, the French chanson.
Nine he returns to the previous cover of Sault’s album: titles made up of matches and a fire about to ignite. The images speak loudly so the artists involved don’t have to: join Sol and Kid Sister British producer Inflo and a handful of collaborators. Inflo (Dean Josiah) is best known as Michael Kiwanuka’s producer on Kiwanuka, his 2019 Mercury-winning album; Josiah is also involved with Little simz and jungle.
As Adele (19, twenty-one, 25), Sault likes odd numbers. Nine shows its namesake twice: the title track spins in a delicate retro guitar motif that holds up Cleo Sol’s cooing voice. Another “nine” occurs earlier, in Trap Life: “Don’t look for that nine, nine, nine”, Sol pleads, referring to a firearm; repetition also suggests dialing 999.
TO Instagram statement He explains that the gang’s origins lie on London council estates, where resources and options are limited and people can fall into even more damaging situations. The final song, Light’s In Your Hands, tells of children growing up too fast, traumatized.
The spoken word is paramount here. One of several spoken interludes, Mike’s Story testifies to a Michael Ofo hearing on the murder of his father. 9 find an older, unnamed contributor who explains how being from a particular area inevitably marked you. If a sense of awkwardness has run through all of Sault’s albums – they defy, boil and cry, blur expectations, abruptly change course – there is never the sense of a misstep. As with Sault’s previous LPs, there is at least one mainstream watershed moment: Alcohol is a smooth neo-soul hymn to self-medication performed in a smooth waltz.
Just as Michael Kiwanuka appeared in Untitled (Black Is)Inflo’s other close associate, Little Simz, appears here, his old-school stream detailing a life of Oyster cards and being activated by mermaids. Entitled Tracks with an unmistakable London flavor and dreamy organ keys, jazz horn and a touch of hi-hat. There’s humor here too: You From London also pokes fun at American attitudes towards the British. (“Like people were going to work on horses and stuff?”)
Where the two Entitledthey were on fire with anger and pain, Nine it returns to trauma – and healing – as its central motive. “The pain is real,” Sault repeats. A son 5‘s Add a little Sault, the band briefly marked their name. His name has always carried with it the chill of the word “assault”, but here they offer their music as a remedy. “The Sault will heal the wounds,” sings Sol.