Not content with having released two of 2020’s best albums in ‘Untitled (Rise’) and ‘Untitled (Black Is’), the anonymous British neo-soul collective SAULT have surprise-released a fifth record – available online for just 99 days – that carries just as much political and personal weight as its equally vital predecessors.
While 50-second opener ‘Haha’s gospel-style foot-stomps, handclaps and choral singing make the listener feel like they’ve walked into church or stumbled upon a street party, the jubilant atmosphere disappears quickly as ‘London Gangs’ rumbles with gritty lo-fi guitar and urgent drum beats.
‘Trap Life’, meanwhile, is a rallying call for freedom: “We don’t trust these cops / tell me who’s taking shots” proves especially powerful following the sentencing of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd. Fittingly, ‘Fear’’s marching drums turn the song into a protest anthem, the buzzsaw synths forming a solid foundation for rage-fuelled cries of “the pain is real / Can’t fake this”.
Impossible to ignore, it’s a fitting precursor to the numbing heartbreak of ‘Mike’s Story’, on which a man recalls the moment he found out his dad was murdered. ‘Bitter Streets’ is equally moving: “I remember when we were young / You made friends with the gun,” a female voice sings, laying bare the crushing impact over stirring strings before asking: “How can I smile?”
‘Nine’ expands on this story via a voicemail recording about gang culture, the words gradually fading out amid faint crackles. ‘You from London’, featuring musical polymath Little Simz, weaves in a similarly tough subtext over jazzy keys: “We don’t wanna cause any grief / But we get triggered hearing the sound of the police”.
Emotional closer ‘Light’s in Your Hands’, with its angelic choral vocal, provides a moment for reflection. “When you were younger, you were left on your own / Forced to survive, streets became your home,” a soulful female voice recalls, detailing a lost childhood innocence. “We had internal battles,” a man interjects, wearing his heart on his sleeve and openly talking about the anxiety he felt as a young boy: “I was constantly on edge”.
Once again, SAULT demonstrate the power of words and just how impactful music can be. It’s impossible not to feel affected by the stories being told. But, despite ‘Nine’s sadness, SAULT channel optimism and hope for a brighter future into their songs. Coupled with twinkling piano keys, the album’s poignant closing words offer a lifeline: “Don’t ever lose yourself / You can always start again”.
Release date: June 25
Record label: Forever Living Originals