The history of the long-playing record in popular music is littered with cautionary tales of acts attempting to record an epic double album and releasing a bloated, misfiring lump of filler, later to be regretted. There are fewer case studies, however, for acts releasing five surprise albums in one day, which is what Sault have done. It’s not as if they – musicians and artists helmed by influential producer and multi-instrumentalist Inflo – had sat on their collective laurels in the preceding period of 2022. They’d already released an album and an EP since our careering planet last journeyed around the sun AND those two releases showcased pivots from their more established jazz-soul-funk sound towards contemporary classical and fusion-reggae respectively.
Do these five albums justify being five distinct bodies of work? Is there enough quality material amongst these 56 tracks to justify a casual listener filtering through all of them? The answer to both of these non-rhetorical questions is surprisingly affirmative.
Of this expansive accomplishment of a pentalogy, 11 sticks out from the other four in that the songs sound slightly more deliberately constructed than some of the other jam-oriented, mood-based collections. There are echoes of Afrobeat and lots of low-ceilinged jazz club vibes, but the journey from start to finish on 11 is one linked by a sense of gospel-soaked spirituality.
Opening song ‘Glory’ revolves around the sort of impactful, groovy bassline usually found in a pastiche of a seventies cop show. The ragga-style rap breakdown sounds like a completely different song before that familiar bassline wrestles its way back in to control the groove.
Featuring a gloriously obvious guitar with a single coil pick-up, ‘Fear No One’ moves its way through smoothly played minor seventh chords in a hypnotic loop, over which every other musical component slithers.
‘Morning Sun’ displays the power of phrasing the same refrain differently. In the intro, it sounds like a layered gospel aria but, when repeated throughout the main body of the song, has a laid-back reggae feel. The heavily affected guitar is worth mentioning here, as the delay and dripping reverb fill out the compressed sound.
Another guitar sound worth highlighting comes in the relentlessly funky ‘Together’. A wall of wailing wah-wah and flange, it pulses its merry way behind a powering rhythm section.
‘Higher’ feels stuck behind two worlds. A vocal reminiscent of a disco-era banger rolls over a stabby, phasing keyboard synth which at once sounds from the future and from the demo setting of a small Casio.
‘Jack’s Gift’ slightly breaks up the rhythm of the record with a percussion-free maelstrom of chimes, electric piano flourishes, and a slightly sci-fi spoken part. Equal parts wondrous and spooky, the spoken section harks back to the unifying strand of spiritual nourishment.
Sounding like a record originally sampled for something during the P-Funk era, ‘Fight for Love’ mixes a rich Cuban sound with the virtual environs of a small, smoky club where sorrows are drunk away and supposedly misunderstood husbands tell anyone within earshot about their
That virtual club continues to impose its presence on ‘Envious’. I have no idea whose voices are being harmonised, but the result is sumptuous and perfectly bedded within a rich mix of lounge instruments.
‘River’ forms the last, but best, part of a downbeat triumvirate. The pauses in the rhythm track are filled out with majestically delayed guitars dragging every last bit of tone out of whatever vintage amp they’re playing through.
The song’s core message of not rushing and taking it easier with people’s hearts is perfectly pitched given the relaxed tempo.
The tempo hardly picks up for ‘In the Air’ but it does feel thematically different from the preceding three tracks, even if using lots of the same elements. The main hook consists of a rich three-note motif that blends into a repeated use of saturated feedback. Given that the song’s other instruments maintain their subtlety throughout, this adds an unsettling otherworldliness.
Closer ‘The Circle’ has at its core a simple bass lick so groovy that not much would need to be added to make a solid experimental track. However, the dreamy vocals and splash-heavy drum patterns that come in halfway through turn this into something of a twenty-first century take on the blurry sex appeal of a cybernetic Serge Gainsbourg.
Each of the other four albums we’ve briefly hinted at are 100% worth the investment of your time. Aiir is a follow-up to April’s classically cinematic Air. Earth is more recognisably Sault but with all the polyphonic intensity turned up to brain melting levels. UNTITLED (God) is a sequel to the Mercury-nominated, 2020 release, UNTITLED (Black Is) but its 21 tracks are varied to the point of being slightly confusing. Today & Tomorrow has the funkiest basslines and 11 has its meticulous consistency tied up in a worshipful spiritual package.
There’s no underselling what an achievement it is to release this absolute volume of original material with such an obvious lack of filler or disappointments. It almost feels like showing off.
11 is out now via Forever Living Originals