Album of the Week: Sault, 'Rise'


Sault, 'Rise'
Sault, 'Rise' (Forever Living Originals)
Jade - Album of the Week: Sault, 'Rise'
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There's a painting hanging on the walls of the MIA that I pause at every time I visit. The Karl Priebe piece from 1941 isn't particularly large and it's a depiction of a Saint and Martyr that has been the focus of artists for eons: Saint Sebastian (the Patron saint of soldiers - and latter of plagues). But while the typical version is of a beautiful, young, white man slung with arrows - this particular version sees the martyred saint as a black child and with the arrows a hazy white fog encircles the boy, blinding him and binding him to the tree behind him. It's a haunting piece with black suffrage and pain at its center. Does the elevation to Sainthood ease the pain?

The summer of 2020 and the murder of George Floyd struck that discordant chord of pain yet again and the anger and frustration didn't want another martyr. The outlet for much of that pain was marches, and protests, and art. The elusive collective of artists based mainly in the UK, SAULT, released not one, but two albums in 2020. Like the mostly anonymous group, the albums were untitled but parenthetically known as Black Is (released Junteenth) and Rise (released in September). Rise is a celebration of black joy, a battle cry, and a takedown of those that would try to erase hope (false BLM supporters, Karen culture, and those who take the literal lives of black people). As the band tweeted out in June of last year, this is music to "mark a moment in time".

Despite trying to maintain anonymity, a few names are associated with the collective: British singer Cleo Sol, producers Dean "Inflo" Josiah and Kadeem Clarke, and Melissa Young (a rapper from Chicago who also performs under the name Kid Sister). Together they share their frustrations and try to look for joy. There's a thesis of sorts to be found in the midway point "The Beginning and The End" with the lyrics, "We shall reclaim our joy/We shall remuster our strength, through millennia/Bathed in the tears of a thousand ancestors, we shall rise." And there is joy in this album, it's the most danceable record of the four released in the last two years, but that joy is almost an act of resistance. There's a motivational interlude ("Rise") which leads into a disco jam in "I Just Want to Dance" but lyrics like, "You won't see me cry/No, no, no" and with I just want to dance followed up with "I get kinda mad" and "we lost another life" are here to remind that the dance is therapeutic. And in "Street Fighter" they are "gon' fight it whether you like it/Keep playing the music loud."

So, the band members may be slightly anonymous, but on Rise the lyrics don't hide. The beats are hypnotic and fun; it's full of gorgeously orchestrated songs with auditory allusions to Dee-lite's "Groove is in the Heart" ("I Just Wanna Dance") or Tears for Fears "Mad World" and Blondie's "One Way or Another" ("Scary Times") and maybe even the Wicked Witches theme from Wizard of Oz - but the lyrics are there to remind this is a truth and a perspective being shared directly and unafraid. The pain continues, and so does the fighting, and so does the art.

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