MUSIC. RESPONSE. | “Untitled (Black is)” by Sault
Twenty-twenty. The year that just kept on giving and giving and saying “open wider!” and shoving more shit in. Information, disinformation, bad news, bad opinion, hot takes, and impressive flameouts—it was a regular shit-giving fountain. But, just like it’s easy to ignore the one compliment in the comments and focus on the sea of troll thoughts, it’s easy to skim over the good things that have happened. Hmmm. Well, in 2020, I discovered some new (to me) artists and it seemed only natural that the last post in this five-part “Albums that helped keep me sane during this weird year” series should focus on my unknown treasure hauls.
Of course, I can’t just share one* and so, taking inspiration from 2020’s “just keep giving and giving and giving” modus operandi, I’m flipping the bad things happening in threes superstition script to three good things.
It’s a glee-fer three-fer! And I threw them all in one playlist for you if you don’t have the patience to read this whole thing. Easy.
* But if I had to, hand’s down it it would be Sault’s “Untitled (Black is). 100%
How do I find record nuggets in my music panning pan? Is my life ruled by algorithms? Am I a Discogs saddie, creating long want lists and jumping on overpriced holy grails when they appear mirage-like on my digital horizon? Do I loiter on street corners, accosting strangers with “Help me! What record do I absolutely NEED in my life right now?” yellings? These are valid questions (that you’ve never thought to ask) and I shall attempt to illustrate a couple of methods I use, below.
The discovery of what I consider my find of the year—Sault’s, “Untitled (Black Is)”—was a combo of some Discogs fate delivered via some Rough Trade sad-trombone noises. The sad trombone noises were performed by the Rough Trade Out of Stock orchestra. From memory, I was actually looking at a different album at the time—some colored vinyl that I didn’t need, no doubt—and when I heard the trombone sound, I got a bit huffy. If you’ve ever felt the hot flame of must-buy-a-record-today desire incinerating your savings while your back is turned, you’ll know what happened next. The mouse moved, and I started clicking bait.
There’s a little note in my iPhone called “Vinyl to buy” It’s stuff I’m watching on Discogs, or have heard about from a friend. Some of the things on the list are CDs, or digital albums I own, that I’ve deemed worthy of a new vinyl life in my home. And then there’s also a Spotify playlist called Vinyl, comprised of albums that have popped up via my Discover Weekly, or I’ve read about somewhere, and mean to explore with a view to possibly buy. I know. This is fascination. But the point is this.
Sault was not on any of those lists. I had never even heard of them until that day, which I know makes it painfully obvious that I’m well off the back of this “in touch with the current music landscape” train. All I knew was I wanted to pick up something I’d never listened to before, and Sault put up their hands. A quick search on Spotify and I was instantly smitten. But…
Sad trombone. Out of stock.
It’s no surprise really. It’s an absolute scorcher of an album so of course Rough Trade didn’t have any copies left. Expand the parameters and to the google machine! A whole sad trombone section of retailers performed for me that day. That only left spendy ol’ Discogs, and since I already felt like I’d scaled a wall without a rope to even find a copy, I talked myself into thinking that oh, yeah, the prices seem reasonable and ordered a copy from Denmark. This was over a month ago, and I still haven’t seen it. I know it left Denmark, so it is somewhere. I don’t know where, but it ain’t is with me.
That hasn’t stopped me from playing it, and often. The only thing its non-arrival has screwed up is the photo for this post. Ugh, so 2020, amirite?! Disappointment is just something we’re all learning to move past, every damn day this year. Fortunately, this album is far from disappointing, and with its availability on Spotify, you don’t have to move past anything. What a world!
“(Untitled. (Black is)” is everything you want in an album. Afro-beats, cool, funky, sweet, with uppercut jabs that ring your bell when you least expect them. It is, quite possibly, the key thematic album of 2020, and its driving forces is right there in the title.
Sometimes anger music is just anger music for the sake of the yell, but this ain’t that kind of record. This focused, justified rage and nuanced approach, coupled with the sheer uplift and positivity of this record give me so much hope and ‘f-yeah, let’s get this done’ motivation. I just can’t recommend this enough.
Right out the gate, you’re at the front lines and ready to go, and then it’s straight into the head-nodding beat of Stop Dem, which honestly should be enough to convince you to buy the whole dang album. But hey, I know y’all aren’t as keen to take chances on records you’ve never heard, so let me just place a couple of tasters here to help seal the deal.
You’ll find a good sampling of the revolutionary spirit held within the grooves of this record with, Don’t Shoot Guns Down, Bow, Sorry ain’t Enough, Eternal Life, and Hold Me. Honestly, I could just keep rattling off songs, but if you’re not bought in after those, then I don’t know what to say.
No question, it has been my favorite new artist (to me) record of the year. A delicious fate discovery. That fog of vinyl curiosity hugged at my ankles for a hot minute before sending a wispy tendril up my leg and into my savings back pocket, and I am forever grateful. Before you tell me about the second album they released this year—“Untitled (Rise)”—let me just say this: Sad trombone (ugh) and look there at that vinyl curiosity fog bank. Look it it, sitting just off my shore and waiting for the right breeze to blow it into an actual bank full of this author’s money. What will the future hold, I wonder?
2020 Bonus Albums
“To Love is to Live” by Jehnny Beth
You know when you don’t make a connection in your head and you motor about your life thinking two things are different and rad, and then one day you discover that those two things are related, at which point a lightbulb explodes in your head and you spend the next couple of hours pulling shards of glass out of your clueless ego? Well, that’s what happened with me and Jehnny Beth.
Her name first appeared as a blip on my radar via Ed O’Brien’s Instagram when he mentioned he’d taken part in one of her Echoes Live shows. Apparently, Kim Gordon was also involved. Kim Gordon? As in Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon? My curiosity was piqued. Who was this Jehnny Beth person? What was I missing out on here? An Instagram follow later, and suddenly her album cover was everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. “Eh, fuck it,” I thought. “I don’t really know anything about her, but she seems interesting and self-assured. I’m gonna buy this record.”
The first time I played “To Love is to Live” all the way through, I was excited and a little confused. “What… is this? WHAT IS THIS?!” That was me. It just seemed so confident and all in your face and alien. And familiar? The familiar, as it turned out, was because Jehnny Beth is the singer from the Savages. I knew the Savages and had recently bought a copy of “Adore Life” on vinyl. How had I not made that connection?
It’s because, Janeen, you dive headlong into things without looking at lineages and connections and are constantly working backwards like you are building some kind of genealogical archive of how your musical tastes evolved and perhaps if you read up a little on things before you committed to them, you’d look smarter. *sigh* Reading is now done. Jehnny Beth, I see you!
Now, the record itself. Trying to explain what it is to anyone else is a little… I don’t even know where to start. On Instagram, I took a sad stab at it: “Raw? Urgent? Gentle industrial chaos with unpredictable, chest out step forwardness and sporadic tenderness?” I’m not sure that helps. I’d go so far as to say I find it almost unclassifiable, which must be super frustrating for those who like their music neatly arranged in genres on their shelves.
I love it. I mean, it’s just so surprising and in your face and confident and tender so unpredictably great that I’m just going leave it at that. Here’s a video about the inspiration for the album artwork and how they captured it. You can read more here. Entering the artwork – ooh, la la!
Jehnny Beth. She’s French, she’s an artist, she’s got bags o’ sass, and she’s a swift ol’ kick in the goddamn lady balls, which is exactly the kind of thing 2020 deserves.
Here is the video of the Echoes show Ed O’Brien was talking about, which includes a panel interview with the performers that touches on creativity and process. Also, let me just say that Kim Gordon releasing her first solo album at the age of 66 is exactly the kind of good news that should be shared in 2020. Side note: I love her boots!
“Set my Heart on Fire Immediately” by Perfume Genius
Of all the ways to discover a new artist, I never thought a glimpse of this record on Marc Maron’s Instagram Live feed would be one of them. Like Sault, I’d never heard of Perfume Genius, so this became another one of those “I’ll take a chance on that, even though I know nothing about it,” records. You’ve probably noticed by now that I do this, a lot.
No regrets. None.
Of the three records here, this is probably the biggest hashtag mood album. There is a danger to it, though I’m not sure it needs to come with a warning label. The argument could be made that If you’re on the edge of a potential sad sack incident, this could be an album to avoid, but as a counterpoint to that, I think that if you’re wired a certain way as you step into your sad sack and get ready to draw the cord, it might be EXACTLY the record you need. It just depends on how you react to stuff, and personally, I found the entire listening experience to be quite delicious.
Not that it’s all melancholy mood—if that’s even the right mood descriptor. I feel like I’m pigeonholing it, and that’s 100% not my intent because this is a GREAT album. For melancholy and for joyful pop reasons. For every low-key melody that sets your heart to take over the brain’s thinking work, there’s a song that’ll pull you back. Songs run the emotional gamut, which is perhaps why the title is what it is? Who doesn’t what their heart to go up in flames with the emotion of love or loss—either at the beginning, middle, or end of it?
Who does he sound like, you ask? While I get that giving you some frame of reference will help you to contextualize your own feelings about the music, and how you might respond to it prior to listening, I don’t really want to try to throw a rope around it. Vibe-wise, it’s a record with songs connecting to all sorts of style satellites—a little glam, a little pop, some grit, and if I could drop a reference I might say “a little Roxy Music at times” but also not really. Each satellite is beaming out its own signal, and some connections will hit stronger than others, depending on what your aerial is tilted to.
There are songs on this album that catch you in the undertow and just keep churning you over and over and over again. Describe, which is a pure engine grind mood served on a shore break thumper wave, has really refined my ability to drop the needle into just the right groove to start the song again. His voice, like the styles on this record, seems pliable and free, bringing shy delight to songs like Jason or Some Dream. There are driving beats, and delicious melodies and so to you I say, it’s time to get your mood ring out, put this record on, and see what color it turns you.
And with that, I’m out. Goodbye, 2020. Hello, 2021. Let’s all strive for more music in our lives. Music saves! Music salves! Music keeps blood pumping in our valves!