KEXP is counting down the best records of the year with our annual Best of 2022 Countdown. Ahead of the countdown, KEXP staff make the case for some of their favorite albums from 2022. Make sure to vote for your favorites by December 9 at 7 PM PT and tune in to hear what makes the list on December 16.
It’s funny how—for me—religion always pops in life around tragedy or reflection. 2022 had a lot of both in my life. Early in January, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My two-year-old daughter kept having seizures and we still don’t know why. Having to yell to Siri to call 9-1-1 while cradling my daughter’s head while it spasmed found me also praying to a God who has probably long lost my number.
The reflection around my life and my journey with religion is very intentional. I’m currently writing a book of short essays about my coming of age in the church and then my rumspringa of sorts in my early 20s. Working title: Thou Shalt Not, Okay? It’s been a weird/hard year, y’all.
All of this was on my mind when October 2022 rolled towards its icy ends. It was time for each of us on the editorial team to choose our “For Your Consideration” album to coincide with KEXP Listener Best of 2022 Voting. Meeting after meeting I would be the person at the restaurant table, with their head down, reading the menu feverishly front-to-back, saying, “Come back to me!” Nothing was jumping out to me like my 2021 power album. Last year, Little Simz was with me through so much uncertainty and this year, I felt like I was floating around in numbness that was rarely soundtracked.
Honestly, I probably would’ve written about Arcade Fire’s We if we hadn’t found out that Win Butler is a fucking creep. My most-listened album was—hands down—Renaissance by Beyoncé, but I wasn’t about to write a For Your Consideration article that’s like, “HELLO FELLOW KIDS: hAvE yOu HeArD oF bEyOnCé??”
And then November 1 happened – the day elusive UK project SAULT released five—that’s right FIVE. They had already released one album this year, but decided the world needed five more 2022 releases. (I know I did.) The albums were free to download on their site for five days with the password “godislove” and we all panicked and downloaded them all, not knowing if they would ever live anywhere else. (They are since now up on Spotify and YouTube and maybe other streaming services I don’t regular.)
SAULT is a huge band for KEXP—one of our favorites. In 2020, they released “Untitled (Rise)” AND “Untitled (Black Is).” Both albums became protest anthems for Black Lives Matter, but they were about so much more than protest. SAULT represents Black joy, Black rights, Black faith. But they are as elusive as hell. SAULT has never played a concert. They’ve never given an interview. They center Black voices, but do not reveal their own. They are not available for me to ask questions like, “These newest albums feel wildly diverse—tell me why!” Or “So there’s a lot of God talk in here, can you tell me what made you decide to mix state (music industry) and church (pw: godislove)?” Because I want to know.
Maybe it was knowing KNOWING Little Simz is a contributor on this project…
Maybe it’s my long walk away from religion that I’ve been looking back upon lately…
Maybe it’s the slow surrender happening in my life right now…
But I messaged my editor at about 2pm on November 1st: “I’d like to write my For Your Consideration about SAULT’s Untitled (God). I surprised myself by wanting to write about the religious album, but it stood out to me by unapologetically loving a God that IS love. I do miss that about religion—the complete trust, without question. Remembering that feeling through these beautiful songs by SAULT was powerful.
The album is a concept album. I don’t think SAULT does it any other way. This is a book, with verses, that is to be read from front to back.
Untitled (God) starts out with the short, but powerful, “I am Free”
(If you happen to be able to escape your home and toddler for a quick run in the middle of the day, I highly recommend starting your playlist with this song. It hits different.)
The second track “God Is Love” is 100% the SAULT we all know and love. The almost solitary baseline feels like a trademark of SAULT themselves. Then the vocals of a couple—a few?—familiar voices come in singing about how “you can’t go wrong, with loving yourself”and it’s an instant SAULT classic for me. Their first album of 2022 “AIR” was almost all instrumental, with more strings and less bass. It was beautiful, but different and it left us wondering if we were gonna get this SAULT ever again. And—hells yes—it’s there on “God Is Love.”
(Although there is also a false-ending in this track that will def make radio DJs shit their pants… which kinda makes me giggle.)
Early in the album you know that SAULT is taking you to church. You can feel people clapping along all around you in tracks like “Spirit High” and “Love Is All I Know.” And there are some straight-up prayers in this album. (Track 4, Track 7, Track 10, half of Track 17.) As someone who grew up super religious, this feels a little awkward to me. I’m like, “Hey y’all… Aren’t we supposed to pray in private? Matthew 6:5 and all?”
It all feels too intimate. But it’s starting to dawn on me: so much of my life is a prayer. Those overshare Instagram posts? A prayer. Those ruminations into the ether, begging my daughter to be okay? Asking my mom to be cancer-free? A prayer. My writing that reaches down deep and connects me to a deeper me? That is a prayer. So immediately after my knee-jerk reaction to “skip” the prayers on Untitled (God), I give them grace and accept them for the beautiful pieces of this artwork they are.
There are lyrics that just hit me so hard in the first listen and then in the 20th again. In “Never Feel Fear,” I want to discredit the religious over- and undertones of the song until a line stops me in my tracks…
“Dreams will fly by
If you don’t
Set yourself free
From all the things you’ve been through.”
That’s what this year feels like to me. First of all, I literally can’t write a book about religion if I don’t set myself free from the hostility I’m holding on to from the church. It’s like this lyric was written exactly for me. Writing this book is. my. dream.
This album is SAULT’s most diverse, all-encompassing work to date. While the first two-thirds of the 21-track album feels consistent with being in church (wherever that is to you) and praying to god (whatever that is to you), the last third is a vibey tour through all that SAULT is capable of. “Faith” brings Toni Braxton feelings. “Free” is starts with a killer saxophone that draws you in. “Colour Blind” takes us on a boat to some Seu Jorge-esque island and then the boat slows down and scoops the loop around “My Light.”
“God In Disguise” (the second to last track) might feel jarring with it’s synth lines and left-turn of style, but you look back and SAULT has been leading you here throughout the whole album. And if you thought this track was different, wait until the final track—”Life We Rent But Love is Rent Free.” This song takes you to SAULT’s garage, where they must’ve made this song. And you're tapping your foot along, feeling so lucky that this mysterious band has brought you so close to their heart.
At some point, I have to give up my hostility towards religion—toward the church—and ask myself if I have enough of an open heart and “god is love” attitude towards everything to sing along and dance along and feel along with these SAULT songs. Of course singing and dancing and feeling along is about more than just a SAULT and their music. What this album did for me was told me to stop playing defense in every aspect of my life. It sang the hymns of acceptance and surrendering to love, instead of holding on to hostility. Why not love? It’s free. Scoop it up.
Track Recommendations: 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21 (I know that’s a lot… there’s a lot of goodness in this book.)
KEXP is counting down the best records of the year with our annual Top 90.3 Countdown. Ahead of the countdown, KEXP staff make the case for some of their favorite albums from 2022. Make sure to vote for your favorites by December 9 at 7 PM PT and tune in to hear what makes the list on December 16.
Sound & Vision Senior Producer Rachel Stevens talks about the buzz behind “Renaissance” with fellow fans from the B Hive: KEXP Afternoon Show Host Larry Mizell Jr., Stas Thee Boss, and KUOW Arts and Culture Reporter Mike Davis.
KEXP's Rachel Stevens reflects on one of her favorite albums of 2021 ahead of the Top 90.3 Countdown.