December 10, 2021
The follow-up to Mercury-nominated Untitled (Rise) is another transcendent triumph for the not-really-anonymous London neo-soul collectiveThe 50 best albums of 2021More on the best music of 2021More on the best culture of 2021Nine – the fifth album in two years from the very prolific, technically anonymous and stunningly talented collective Sault – begins with a laugh. Unsurprisingly, for a record about fear, pain and trauma on the streets of London, it is a hollow one: a chorus of schoolchildren paying lip service to the concept of joy, their laboured, mechanical chuckling cut loose from a specific source. The effect is evocatively sad and bitterly satirical – especially after Nine’s primary theme, the way young people’s lives are marred by gang violence in the capital, becomes clear. But the sound is also hypnotic and strangely soothing. Or perhaps there’s nothing strange about it. “Laughter heals all that’s torn,” went the opening track of Sault’s last album, the Mercury-nominated Untitled (Rise).
The 50 best albums of 2021, No 6: Sault – Nine
Social injustice, structural inequality and headline-dominating racist violence: these are the subjects recent Sault albums have revolved around (the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer was repeatedly referenced on their third, Untitled (Black Is)). Much of the group’s lyrical content seems intended to disturb, a way to jolt white listeners out of complacency. But it’s not just condemnation – songs provide consolation too; they are also rallying cries for change. On Nine, spoken word interludes baldly state the reality of the situation – on Mike’s Story, a man called Michael Ofo recounts hearing the news of his father’s murder as a child; on Light’s in Your Hands, an unnamed speaker remembers fearing gang violence would suddenly break out on his way to school – while lyrics tell impressionistic stories that teem with loss and hurt, knives and guns.
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