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Albums of the Year 2021: Sault - Nine | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2021: Sault - Nine

Albums of the Year 2021: Sault - Nine

The UK soul collective prove you can't get too much of a good thing

If ever there were a year to cherish new music, 2021 was it. Lockdown v3.0 came with unwelcome updates (shit weather, structured home-schooling) and the only end in sight was of the nation’s collective tether.

With passports rendered next to useless, the arts offered an escape like never before, and music was no exception. In March, Jane Weaver’s phenomenal album Flock arrived full of psychedelic swagger and propulsive momentum. Retaining the melodic sensibilities and esoteric influences that defined her previous records, most notably 2017’s Modern Kosmology and 2015’s The Silver Globe, Weaver crafted a collection that, more than ever, showcased her incredible talent for bridging the gap between the experimental and the accessible. In any other year, an album containing the perfectly plaintive pop of “Heartlow”, “Sunset Dreams” and “The Revolution of Super Visions” would have taken the AOTY crown with ease.

This, however, was an extraordinary year, and Sault are an extraordinary group. In June, the UK soul collective announced the release of Nine, their fifth collection in two years. Although you can still find copies of the album on vinyl and CD, the digital was available to buy or stream for just 99 days, until 2 October this year. It’s a move that confounded many, but this narrow window of opportunity made a lasting artifact out of the digital in a world of ephemeral streaming. It might not feel like a revolution, but Nine is the sound of workers taking back control.

Addressing the often harsh reality of a childhood lived on a London council estate, pain, loss, suffering and healing are recurrent themes. No more so than in “Mike’s Story”. This powerful spoken-word documentary piece features Michael Ofo recalling a childhood memory - hearing of his father’s murder. Bookended between the caustic, claustrophobic beats of “Fear” and the smooth soul of “Bitter Streets”, the juxtaposition and pacing of this entire passage is pitched perfectly, painting a complex picture in subtle shades.

Elsewhere, Nine heralds a return to the wide-ranging influences of 2019’s 5 and 7. There’s the jump-up punk-funk of “London Gangs” cheek-by-jowl with block-party percussion (“Trap Life”) and the extraordinary title track, which delivers psychedelic soul so soaringly flawless, it’s like hearing The New Rotary Connection rework The Beatles.

“The rough can scare people,” sings Cleo Sol, “And I am made of love.”

And that’s Nine in a nutshell – the sound of Sault healing the wounds.


Two More Essential Albums of 2021

Dinosaur Jr – Sweep it into Space
Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert


Musical Experience of the Year

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

While Get Back might be the doscumentary on everyone's lips right now, ?uestlove's documentary from earlier this year, telling the story of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, is every bit as deserving of plaudits. A jaw-dropping document full of powerful performances and huge heart. 


Track of the Year

Trans Pennine Express – GCP (ELLES gotta chase paradise reshape)


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