Archives for January 2021

2 of 2020’s best albums: Sault’s Untitled, (Black Is) and Untitled, (Rise)

album cover for Untitled Black Is
Sault’s Unti­tled, (Black Is)

No soon­er had artists from all walks of life just about man­aged to per­suade the world that no, the pan­dem­ic was not in fact the per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty to final­ly get around to pro­duc­ing that mas­ter­piece. And that, on the con­trary, craft­ing any­thing of sub­stance was, sneer, a lit­tle more com­pli­cat­ed than that, along come Sault with not one two stun­ning albums, both of which are dou­ble albums, and nei­ther of which have a sem­blance of filler in sight.

Sault’s Unti­tled, (Rise).

Worse again, the first, Unti­tled (Black Is) seems to have been pro­pelled into exis­tence in response to the mur­der of George Floyd, on May 25th, and was released, in qui­et anger, bare­ly four weeks lat­er in June. With Unti­tled (Rise) appear­ing but 12 weeks lat­er. So that’s a brace of appar­ent­ly hasti­ly con­ceived dou­ble albums over the course of the sum­mer, after the pair of equal­ly impres­sive albums they released at the end of 2019 – ‘5’ and ‘7’.

Sault’s ‘5’.

Then there’s the ques­tion of who exact­ly ‘they’ are. Sault do nei­ther pro­mo­tion nor pub­lic­i­ty. And not in the we’re-uncomfortable-in-the-limelight limelit inter­view way, there’s gen­uine­ly almost noth­ing about them, any­where. The two prin­ci­ples appear to be the London–based pro­duc­er Inflo and the RnB singer Cleo Sol, who are joined by a hand­ful of the per­form­ers signed to their record label, For­ev­er Liv­ing Originals. 

The two albums mir­ror and echo one anoth­er, with, on paper, Black Is pro­duc­ing the more som­bre med­i­ta­tion and Rise the more dance­able beats. But truth be told, they both dive and glide from men­ac­ing gloom to con­fi­dent joy and back. And the mood con­jured up by both albums can best be summed up by the latter’s title, ‘rise’, being at once tri­umphant­ly upbeat and con­fronta­tion­al­ly revolutionary.

Sault’s ‘7’.

Musi­cal­ly, we move from 70s’ RnB and the pre-dis­co soul of Luther Van­dross to the care­ful­ly con­sid­ered mashups of the Avalanch­es, and that turn of the cen­tu­ry moment when dance, funk and triphop coa­lesced. And each album is mar­bled with tracks built on afro-Cuban beats, send­ing the sounds back to where it all began.

Excep­tion­al albums from an embar­rass­ing­ly fecund base­ment some­where in the for­mer metrop­o­lis of Lon­don, Eng­land. You can see hear the stand­out track Widl­fires from Black Is here:

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2 Films You Might have Missed in 2020

After a year in which the head­less chick­ens at Warn­er Bros declared, yawn, that cin­e­ma was dead, again, it’s easy to have missed the fact that a num­ber of films were in fact released in the year just gone, albeit in a some­what trun­cat­ed man­ner. Two of which are very much worth the effort of chas­ing down.

Bacu­rau won the Jury prize at Cannes in 2019 and is the third fea­ture from Brazil’s Kle­ber Men­donça Fil­ho, which he co-directs with his long time art direc­tor Juliano Dor­nelles. Set in a dystopi­an near future, Bacu­rau is a myth­i­cal town in the Brazil­ian out­back whose inhab­i­tants are being slow­ly closed in on. 

Their water sup­ply has been cut off, their town is inex­plic­a­bly dis­ap­pear­ing from Google maps, or what­ev­er its futur­is­tic equiv­a­lent is, and there are a group of tourists whose safari trip seems to revolve around tak­ing out the town’s inhab­i­tants, as if they all exist­ed in some sort of actu­alised video game.

At Home, In the Com­pa­ny of Strangers.

Bacu­rau begins in malev­o­lent sci-fi mode before mor­ph­ing into spaghet­ti west­ern ter­ri­to­ry via Mad Max. As such, it’s a com­pan­ion piece to At Home In the Com­pa­ny of StrangersNiki­ta Mikhalkov’s impres­sive debut, from1974. It shares that film’s refusal to be bound by any genre straight jack­et, and is wil­ful­ly open to any num­ber of inter­pre­ta­tions. So that its polit­i­cal res­o­nances are sug­gest­ed rather than declaimed. The result is an impres­sive­ly atmos­pher­ic trip into a heart of dark­ness that says lit­tle about the future and much, alas, about the present of the coun­try in which it is set.

The Vast of Night is a much less sub­stan­tial affair, but is well worth a look nonethe­less. The fea­ture debut of Andrew Pat­ter­son, who also wrote and pro­duced it under the pseu­do­nym James Mon­tague, the film was actu­al shot in 2016. But it was picked up by Ama­zon last year after turn­ing many a head at Edin­burgh and Toron­to, and was duly released in the sum­mer of 2020. 

It’s an unabashed homage to 1950’s sci-fi B movies and is pre­sent­ed as an appar­ent episode of a would-be Twi­light Zone series. What ele­vates the film is the infec­tious con­fi­dence with which it is directed. 

And there’s absolute­ly no way we can per­suade you to con­sid­er a sequel…?

I’m sure if I sat sown and thought about it for 20 min­utes, I could prob­a­bly work out quite how he man­ages to match-cut that track­ing shot that seems to glide all the way into the bas­ket­ball game and then effort­less­ly back out again and into the night. But I’d rather just lux­u­ri­ate in its brash exu­ber­ance. Part of the joy of see­ing mag­ic is know­ing that it’s only a trick but being for the life of you inca­pable of work­ing out exact­ly how it was that the trick was done.

Clear­ly made for thrup­pence ha’penny, thanks to its bravu­ra direc­tion The Vast of Night looks like a mil­lion dol­lars and more, and is the most impres­sive call­ing card since Don­ny Darko, if that’s not too hubris­tic an appel­la­tion to lay on it. And both films, by the by, come in at a crisp 90 min­utes. Would that some of their more sea­soned, ahem, supe­ri­ors would fol­low their lead.

You can see the trail­er for Bacu­rau below. 

And for The Vast of Night below.

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