ALBUM IN A SENTENCE: An album for now. An album for the long haul.

Since I read the book many years ago, I liked this quote from The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis:

The humans live in time but only our Enemy (God) destines them to eternity. He (God) therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point at which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.

Of their many strengths as a collective, Sault appear to be a band that understand the connection and the tension between the present moment and eternity. On the one hand, they are completely in the moment, last year releasing two connected albums that powerfully explored systemic racism and the need for Black Lives Matter. This year, they release NINE, a new collection of songs that are only available for 99 days. (Side note: that’s one way to subvert the culture glut!)

However, Sault also have a clear grasp on the ways that a band’s mystique can transcend the moment. That’s partly by their underground approach and their unwillingness to engage in usual promotional activity. It’s also because their story is central to what is clearly emerging as a rock ‘n’ roll history moment centred around their producer, Inflo. I like the steady stream of music documentaries that are released on Sky Arts, telling the compelling stories of Trojan Records, the Blitz club or Poly Styrene. Inflo is making that kind of history here and now. With Kiwanuka in 2019, the Untitled Sault albums in 2020 and the imminent release of Little Simz’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Inflo is in a peak-period Beatles purple patch. There’s even time on ‘9’ to reference the pastoral psychedelia of ‘Dear Prudence’. How long before it is common currency to start referring to the Inflo sound?

The same tension of now and eternity carries through NINE. On the one hand, it is an album that matches its 99 day lifecycle transience. It’s a short album at just 34 minutes. And whereas the Untitled albums were sprawling, trans-atlantic state of the nations affairs, NINE is rooted on the streets of East London. It’s not an album that feels the pressure to go larger than what has come before. In fact, it’s most effective in intimate field recorded storytelling that roots and puts flesh on their previous albums.

NINE reflects on intransigent problems relating to the realities and misconceptions of London street life, police brutality, and the way in which the intersections of systemic racial and class prejudice trap people within inescapable cycles of violence. The most powerful moment on the album perhaps comes on ‘9’ with a spoken word outro saying that ‘it becomes easier to describe yourself as what people already say that you are.’ There is an understanding that, despite protests and action, these painful realities still come around like Auld Lang Syne at New Year. Amongst all this, NINE has a streak of goofy humour and a heart big enough to sing ‘The rough can scare people and I am made of love’.

Musically, NINE has got the Inflo sound; super heavy bass, references to classic soul and inventive percussion all stand out. There is also a 90s electro feel on the faster tracks like single ‘London Gangs’ and ‘Fear’. Cleo Sol’s vocals are faultless. NINE is an album for now, an essential album of 2021, made by a band determined not be defined by anyone’s expectations or preconceptions.

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