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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