Let’s face it, we’re going to look back at 2020 one day and be amazed we made it through the madness. First we had Covid and the subsequent lockdown that kept us under house arrest and seeking distraction from Netflix and films like Contagion (yeah that helped!).
Then came the deaths of several African-Americans and this saw a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent arguments about Britain’s heritage and the legacy of its Empire.
We had too much time on their hands and it seemed like we were using it to feed ourselves on online rhetoric and cultural wars. As the fading punk-turned-reactionary, John Lydon once sang ‘Anger is an Energy’ in 2020 the world seemed to be fuelled by this source alone.
In the middle of all this I was turned onto the music from the UK-based collective known as Sault. Now initially I thought here’s a group with too much time on their hands like the rest of us, as they managed to release two albums in the same year. It turned out to be a false assumption as they had repeated the trick previously by releasing their first two albums also in 2019.
The 2020 albums Untitled (Rise) and Untitled (Black Is) blew me away. There is literally no other way to describe the feeling I had when I heard them so I have to use that well worn cliche. Here was a group that managed to capture the mood of the year and all that was happening. They did so with a fierceness and militancy in some songs that seemed like they were recorded after attending a BLM march. These were mixed in with a more mellow and even danceable vibe on others but always with the same intelligent flow of conscious lyrics.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better I discovered almost by accident that they had dropped a new one Nine. If like me you’re a fan, you will have realised that this is how they do things. A tweet from them on June 25th simply announced ‘9 out now!’, that was it, nothing more and no fanfare bar the retweets.
Going to the website reveals another surprise, the new album had been made available to download for free for 99 days. At a time when income from live performances has disappeared and artists are relying on sales from their recorded music Sault has simply given their work away to those of us who so need to hear it right now.
They are here as creators not money-makers for sure and Nine follows their previous work in providing a hard-hitting but thought provoking narrative. This time the focus is London Gangs as we hear early on from the track with that title. I’m not going to give you one of those track by track reviews because I genuinely believe that you need to sit down, put the headphones on and just play the whole album from start to finish rather than concentrating on individual tracks.
In fact, spoil yourself and listen to the whole damn back catalogue in chronological order. If we can binge watch a boxset or Netflix series surely we owe it to ourselves in these confusing times to indulge mind & soul with some of the most radical & empowering music since Kendrick made his debut.