Sault is a musical collective from the UK who have allowed very little information to seep out about their identity, but we do know that producer Inflo is one of the voices behind the project, and on past projects they’ve collaborated with artists such as Little Simz, Michael Kiwanuka, Cleo Sol, and Kadeem Clarke. They came to prominence worldwide in 2020, with the release of two albums, Untitled (Rise) and Untitled (Black Is), which captured everyone’s imaginations as they beautifully combined hip hop, R&B, gospel, soul, funk, and beyond as they sung these politically charged songs that addressed a lot of issues surrounding race, class, globalism, capitalism, and more. They switched gears in 2021, giving us a classical choral project called Nine, which just further opened up the possibilities of what a Sault project could be. Now they are back with not one or two albums, but five projects released simultaneously, 11, AIIR, Earth, Today & Tomorrow, and Untitled (God).
Normally, when a musical group decides to release a double album, you might wonder whether or not they have enough material to warrant such a decision, or maybe they could have edited everything down to one strong album. Five albums released simultaneously just seems like overkill and excess for any artist, except for the past couple of years, Sault has been reinforcing to us that the rules just don’t apply to them. This is to say that if any other act pulled this stunt, I’d probably be approaching with a lot more caution, but when Sault made the announcement, I just assumed that this was part of their grand vision and I trusted that there was purpose behind this set of albums. Fortunately, I was proven right the first time I listened to these albums. It took me a while to get through them and process all that was happening, but I didn’t regret a second I spent with the music. The overarching theme to all five albums is gospel. This is a project exploring religion and spirituality, done through music using a lot of different approaches. The only album of the five that distinctly sits apart from the other four is AIIR, which is a contemporary classical album written for a full orchestra with five movements. I’m not the biggest classical music fan, but this album held my interest by keeping the music in motion and engaging with songwriting that feels much more contemporary than stuck in the past. There are really compelling melodies that will stick with you, and the rhythm keeps everything pushing forward. When you get to the other four albums, they are a little harder to pin down, but they are every bit as engaging and exciting. It’s all gospel, but gospel can mean a lot of different things. At different points the music is in dialogue with everything from psychedelic rock to Afrobeat to classic soul to modern R&B and hip hop and beyond. It’s such a big project, it can be hard to wrap your head around it, but when you are in it, everything makes sense. That’s because one, the songwriting and arranging are really smart and done with a lot of love and care. This means that for all of the long compositions spread throughout the albums, it never feels like it, because the length feels necessary for the words are music to fully express all of the thoughts and emotions contained within. Two, these thoughts and emotions always feel like they are coming from a genuine and personal place. You never feel like you are being preached at from up on high, you just feel like you are having a really in depth conversation with a friend about faith and spirituality and the meaning of life without fear of judgment. Three, the musicianship that Sault has brought together to bring these musical visions to life are top notch from start to finish. Each voice and each instrument is giving you passion and skill, coming together to serve the greater purpose of the group. If that doesn’t speak to what gospel music is all about, I don’t know what does.
A five album project should have been too much. There should have been plenty of fat to trim to prove the conventional thinking right. But time and time again, Sault has been bucking convention and making things work and fit their own unique vision of what a musical project can be in the 2020s. These five albums are soulful, inventive, musically engaging, and completely necessary.
|Sault - 11/AIIR/Earth/Today & Tomorrow/Untitled (God)
|Forever Living Originals