Throughout lockdown I searched high and low for new music and in general struggled to find something that blew my mind. This was until Sault released ‘Untitled (Black Is)’. Over 3 months since the first listen it is still fresh as the first listen and I’m excited to present it to you as this month’s album of the month.
Who are Sault and where have they come from? In short, nobody really knows. It’s written that they’re a collective most likely from London and they’re on the Forever Living Origionals imprint. Cleo Sol is thought to be in the band, so is Kid Sister and Inflo. In the last 18 months they have released 3 full albums that are all thriller and no filler. Their sound in my humble opinion is incredible. It firmly falls into my wheelhouse. They cover a wide spectrum of sounds with soul firmly at the heart of everything they do.
Like their first two releases, our album of the month Untitled (Black Is) came out of nowhere. The first time the world heard it was on the Giles Peterson show. He rated it so highly that he played the entire album on its’ first play in June. They posted on their social media upon the digital release “We present our first ‘Untitled’ album to mark a moment in time where we as Black People, and of Black Origin are fighting for our lives. RIP George Floyd and all those who have suffered from police brutality and systemic racism. Change is happening…We are focused.”
Focused is an understatement. From the initial ‘Out the Lies’, followed by ‘Stop Dem’, ‘Hard Life’, and ‘Don’t Shoot Guns Down’ the scene is set for the majestic ‘Wildfires’; which exudes inspiration and determination amongst deep frustration as the first half of the album swiftly pulls you in. As Sault swerve through the multi genre effort you’re continually impressed with each new sound whilst purveying the consistent message of black unity. As the album nears it’s end the message moves from frustration to hope.
Sault have released an album of heart felt, thought provoking songs that inspire and for some hopefully educate. At face value I would wonder if an album that moves through psychedelic soul, dub, reggae and spoken word within minutes of each other would work? This album does this on numerous occasions without flinching. We often talk about albums and their programming. It is 56 minutes long, 20 tracks deep with a mixture of songs and interludes. I struggle to find a track that doesn’t belong.
This album was the first in months that I was truly blown away by. Since the pre-lockdown release of RTJ4. I write this on the day that Sault announced the follow up to Untitled is imminent. More of their musical magic is on the way and I for one can’t wait!
14 thoughts on “September AOTM: Sault – Untitled (Black Is)”
I’m going to get an early reply in here but I promise I will be back with more. So. I got this and I was like oh … 20 tracks. That’s going to be ‘interesting’. And then, I saw that many of them were suspiciously short. Oh shit … SKITS I thought. So, to be fair I entered into this with some trepidation. I had heard amazing things but stepped in cautiously.
My caution was misplaced. This is special. The spoken word tracks are mesmerising. They pull you in and speak to you. Speak at you in some instances. I genuinely think that this is important and that people should listen to it. I cringe that I have just said this but that is honestly how I feel. Since the George Floyd murder and reaction, white people have been asking what they should be reading to understand the perspective of people of colour (my answer ….anything by Angela Y. Davis). Many books have been shared. In other forums, white people have asked what films they should be watching (my answer … anything by Spike Lee but absolutely Do The Right Thing). But I’ve heard few people ask ‘what music should I be listening to?’ … if they asked me, listening to this album would be a pretty good start.
So many chunks of creativity are important … but how many of them are also musically brilliant? Sault – Untitled (Black Is) is one of them. It’s vast. Deep. Powerful. Beautiful. Heart Breaking. Relentless. My god is it PROUD. This has been in my life for about 7-8 weeks now. It’s been a constant. I put this up there … right at the top of the musical tree.
I just wanted to share this as some early emotions. I will be back.
I saw the Skits and thought……. oh no too. But they are really good. The only one I can’t really get on board with is June Child.
First impressions 2 full listens in: this is a really beautiful, fully-formed piece of work. Of course I knew Wildfires, but that was pretty up-tempo and so I (mistakenly) thought we’d have a 12-track album like that. We don’t, but actually for an album that’s almost an hour long, it really just flows. I’ve not given it a headphone listen (the PHONES, people the phones) but in the background of work and relaxing it’s a really engaging listen so far.
I definitely like the mystery here. As we talked about for Yves it’s rare and really valued. The productivity of 3 albums in a year is pretty incredible. But it’s clear what an important expression this is – so musically different but very much of its time, like RTJ4 – and so it’s something I’m going to look forward to getting more into as the month progresses.
Excellent work brother Nolan.
My god, this is pretty much a perfect album. And I didn’t think this would be either my thing, or that I’d really get so grabbed by it.
I think there’s a few reasons for this. For starters, I think the ensemble element means that there’s a real blend of music on here – r’n’b, funk, roots/dancehall, electronic-soul, and all sorts of the edges of that – so there’s a real richness to the variation you have. But within that there’s a real ‘feel’ to the album that is very clear (and I know Joey and I are all about the feels). Added to that, the production is SO good, so clean and there’s real space to the tracks. There’s a lot of reverb and subtle sound design that means while the melodies and instrumentation are often sparse and austere, there’s a really rich, ear-filling sound to it. And that really envelops you when you listen. What that also means is that while it’s definitely a ‘headphones’ album (isn’t everything?) it’s also great on in the background, tv, all sorts. It works really well anywhere.
But the reason this album works is the quality of the music. That’s always the bottom line, of course. But the melodies, the lyrics, the *message* just all chime, both with the times and with the musical landscape. Albums like this are really important, and you can only hope it gets the adulation it deserves. Yes, there’s an air of mystery, but it also it’s the attention is gets that’s just as vital, and hearing Wildfires so much on the radio has also been a big thing, so props to 6Music for that.
In half a dozen listens now it just flows over you. And it’s so rich. From the chanting of Out The Lies, sounding like a protest from the deep south in Jim Crow, blending into ‘Black Is’, an emotional female voice, talking through the complexities of race in 2020, it reels you in. You realise this is an album with something to SAY. Throughout the album’s twenty tracks (and who else thought ‘oh, this is a bit long, only to find it disappears every time you listen to it?) it puts forward a powerful message, sometimes subtle – Hard Life’s heavenly melodies but harsh truths and the incredible Wildfires – other times as clear and confrontational as it needs to be – Don’t Shoot, Guns Down, and Monsters. It plays with afro-beats (Bow, with Michael Kiwanuka brilliantly employed, like all our albums streams crossed), and has such an astounding palette of music that even when you know what’s coming, it’s got something new each time. Pray Up, Stay Up’s brilliant old 60s soul / spriitual melodies, the Destiny’s Child-esque Sorry Ain’t Enough, Miracles’ What’s Going On vibes until the female spoken word chimes in to bring it into the 20s, to the Bon-Iver like Hold Me. But none of this feels like anyone else’s record, it’s very much an ensemble effort, but it feels like a single, powerful voice.
Even the ‘skits’ or short tracks work really well. In the case of This Generation, it’s an overspill from Bow, Don’t Shoot Guns Down is under two minutes but perfection, X speaks out direct to the listener in heartfelt lyrics, as does Us. If I had one outlier, it’s June Child, which doesn’t quite seem to fit. But it’s the only minor criticism of an album that is near-on perfection.
And of course, it’s not a work that is speaking directly to me. It emanates blackness: an empowering, beautiful message that feels emotional and full of love to me, and it’s not even the target. It’s an album that is a forceful, powerful, brilliant celebration of culture, creativity, positivity, but also spells out the lie of the land, both from history and in to the future. But my god, it does it in such a way. I haven’t listened to an album like this before that’s resonated so much musically. And it grows more and more enticing with each listen. I can only hope it resonates as much as it deserves, perhaps a sleeper hit, a slow burner. It doesn’t have record company power behind it, and it doesn’t have big radio singles. But my god, it should be the top of everyone’s list. This feels like a Top 5 of the year without question. What a choice, brother Nolan.
I disagree with you Guy. I think it is speaking to you. And sometimes it’s speaking at you. The totality of the *message* that I am receiving is ‘PRIDE’. Of course it is talking to black people. But it is also talking to everyone. Pride is the message and it’s not an exclusive message. It’s an inclusive message of what it means to be proud and black and Sault are telling everyone.
That is actually a fair shout Joey. I guess it’s for me, but it not my pride, if you get me. Though I’m proud it exists.
So … some thoughts to add to my initial ramblings;
* This is majestic
* It’s so listenable, it sounds great in headphones, in the car, whilst working, it’s accompanied almost every evening meal with my family, the only issue is that Sammy can’t stop dancing when he should be eating, he REALLY feels this one
* The spoken word tracks don’t distract, they are part of the soul of the album and the album would be weaker without them – in my opinion they shouldn’t be called ‘skits’
* Monster’s sounds like 90’s trip hop, it could sit on Tricky’s debut Maxinquaye – I love it
* I love an organ (insert joke) and this album has loads of organs layered into it
* There are loads of African sounds, influences, accents, I love this influence blended in with the other sounds
* How do they create such a coherent sound from so many diverse styles, voices, accents, ideas
*@David – do you find the above overwhelming and ‘unfinished’ like Yves Tumor or does this land more complete to your ears? I’m really interested in this as I recall you saying this last month talking about Yves and I wondered how this ‘felt’ to you.
* Guy is right the production is beautiful, perfect even? The space it gives is sensuous … so many layers, yet so much space. How does that even work?
So. Great discussion so far, brothers. Gosh, where to start? Well, for one, I feel very spoken to directly by the record. Like, REALLY spoken to. I think it’s exploring what blackness is and fuck me, if that’s not for white people to assume and educate themselves, I don’t know what.
First few listens I thought this was great, but I wondered how original it was, even if the execution (the anonymity, sparse design, genre hopping sounds) was brilliant. And bit by bit, I’ve realised how essential almost every part of it is. There aren’t skits in between – they are discussions of blackness. They are incredibly powerful. The very opposite of a skit. This is a curated piece of work, very thought through from beginning to end. I don’t find it overwhelming actually, because it has a lot of SPACE in the sound of so many songs. It’s a widescreen production.
It’s making me think a lot about my introduction and journey through the awfully reductive and narrow terms that is ‘black music’. I wanna leave hip hop aside for a minute, that’s its own giant beast. Like a lot of indie kids who discovered soul and dance music a little later on, my gateway was Motown and then ‘classic’ soul artists – Aretha, Marvin…. and then beyond that, onto Stevie and Curtis and the more conscious 70s stuff. But I wasn’t listening to much contemporary soul music, and I probably looked down on it a bit (which now seems the most astonishing piece of provincial white boy idiocy). But something clicked and my mind opened up, and that moment for me came when Soul II Soul realised Club Classics Vol 1. That album shook me to my foundations. From there, suddenly a whole world of music appeared – Shara Nelson (and Massive Attack, natch), Young Disciples, Mica Paris. Honestly, I listened to Shara Nelson’s solo stuff even more than Massive Attack. I was obsessed with it. And by the time the new wave of RnB came along in the mid to late 90s, I was WELL on board.
Why am I mentioning that? Well, partly because I think that a lot of (white!) people still don’t really like ‘soul’ or if they do its heritage soul, the easy to tick and to love Aretha boxes. Obviously, Massive Attack used soul voices in a trip hop setting, as did Tricky, or later dubstep artists like Various (aka Various Production – were you guys ever into them, I bloody loved them). But what I loved about all those things was you could hear the SOUL music in them. They were, for me, soul music with a contemporary twist.
Which brings me back to this remarkable album. It’s a fucking soul album. That’s what it is. Like Club Classics Vol 1. Like Kiwanuka, who naturally appears in the absolutely FUCKING BRILLIANT Afrobeat track. It’s conscious soul a la Curtis, it’s got trip hop vibes big time and yes, I thought of Maxinquaye often.
The genre hopping thing. It’s something we keep returning to, huh? In fact, has there been a single album where that’s not been true – from RTJ to Jessie W to Yves T – that genre hopping thing keeps cropping up, huh? You know why? Because how can you not hop through genres when you listen to EVERYTHING. On Untitled (Black Is) – a great title by the way, both anonymous and focussed – it feels like the distillation of 50 years of black musical innovation. Not a moment of it feels reductive or retro. Maybe that’s because it feels so lyrically on point and passionate and, at times, painful. But it’s not just that. There is some musical mastery at work here. This is made by artists at the very, very top of their game.
I haven’t even tried the new album yet. They’re working faster than my brain can cope. I want to take my time and saviour this stuff, it’s that good.
Good luck finding dissent on this one!
This is a really REALLY good summary of how I feel about, another half dozen listens in. It sounds incredible in any setting. It SPEAKS, it really is a monumental piece of work. Staggeringly good.
Another thought – this is an anywhere album. Headphones? GREAT. Car? You betcha? While cooking. SURE, STICK IT ON. Going for a walk? BANG. How many album are like that? Not many.
p.s. Oh, also: how crazy not to mention the influence on gospel music on this album. It hangs over it like a shroud – the harmonies, the conversations with God, the call to arms – all pure gospel.
It excites me that you all have the love I do for this album. Who wouldn’t like this album?
The thing that I keep coming back to on this album is that there are so many layers to this album. Song by song. Not only in the message but also in the writing, performance and production of each track.
I’m looking forward to digging in deeper into this on the podcast.
It really is perfection, to be honest. Pretty much perfection. I really want to know who they are, just so i can tell them how good it is.
This just gets better and better with every listen. It’s a sublime piece of musical artistry.
I love how I know I love an album when before the end of each track I’m excited for the one I know is coming next. This is 100% for Sault.