Rare is it, in these times of year-long tours and prolonged recording periods, that an artist releases two albums in the same year. Rarer still, is it for them both to be of such undeniable, unbelievable quality.
Without any prior warning, press interaction or disclosure of who Sault actually are, (Black Is) was released, likely in hasty response to the murder of George Floyd and the global civil rights protests across 2020. Twelve weeks later, (Rise) followed. Each lasting over 50 minutes, they are generous offerings of political anger, optimistic resilience and shameless power.
Musically, (Black Is) takes influence from Kendrick Lamar’s classic To Pimp A Butterfly and Erykah Badu-esque R’n’B. Reflecting on the aforementioned events in America, there’s a dark undertone that runs through every track with grounding realism. ‘Don’t Shoot Guns Down’ takes aim at police violence bluntly, with the repeated refrain “Racist policeman / Don’t shoot / Guns down” echoing eerily to ever-sparser backing, while tracks like ‘Wildfires’ and ‘Monsters’ address the discriminatory nature of white society with sharp poignancy, both in tone and message.
(Rise), meanwhile, is a more energetic affair, encompassing the sounds of Afrobeat, funk and dance and moulding them into fifteen tracks of sonic force. Demonstrating this new dynamism is opening track ‘Strong’, a six-minute wonder that carelessly drifts across the stylistic spectrum in awe-inspiring class.
Though, don’t be fooled, the political intent remains potent – ‘No Black Violins in London’ holds an enrapturing monologue that laments the everyday trials black people face from their white counterparts. ‘Scary Times’ pushes the narrative further, outlining the strength of resolve and character of the Black Lives Matter protests (“Another one’s gone a lost soul / That’s why we’re marching in the streets every night“).
Sault’s albums aren’t only collections of songs to be listened to. They’re a call for radicalism, a cry for racial equality and a candid reflection and education of society’s unforgiving mechanisms of power. If ever there was an illustration of the political turbulence and tension of 2020, Sault’s music holds it all, with no emotional endeavour left untouched.