Producer Inflo and his merry band add lush orchestration to their heady mix of funk and soul, finds Nathan Evans

If you love Little Simz’s coronation album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert or Adele’s 30 from last year, you’ll know one of their defining qualities is the orchestration that, in each case, became a character in its own right. Both records presented a regal congression of choral vocals and classical instrumentation, padded with a cold echo as though recorded in the stately home featured in the video for Simz’s ‘Woman’. The linking node between those albums is newly-lauded producer Inflo, and his band Sault has a new surprise release. Air gives those illustrious symphonies the full stage.

This may be a shock if you’re not clued in on this mysterious group’s connections, as their last five records have all been firmly soul-funk affairs. But on their sixth album, they create a near-wordless collection of scores with enough scale to match – or even tower over – their diptych of Untitled records from 2020. These compositions deserve Fantasia-style visuals.

Air can be a wandering record that doesn’t give its big crescendos away easily. The group is often finding, mining at and striking moments that earn that Disney soundtrack comparison. Foremost is ‘Heart’, a veritable hero’s theme that grows botanically from a plucky, out-of-tune guitar to a triumphant marriage of the album’s most dynamic elements. ‘Time Is Precious’ begins as an edifice of horns, strings and choir being pulled along by a fleet of woodwinds, all before settling down for the first and only vocals with lyrics, sung like a hymn under silent candlelight.

Other parts reinstate a dash of Sault’s usual soul accents, highlighting the influence of Stevie Wonder’s adventurous Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. Title track ‘Air’ shows delicate pacing as wondrous horns swoop off and strings flourish like a rococo ornament, but it stems from a terra firma of warm, bounding keys and vocals that could have fit snuggly amongst Wonder’s eclectic synth-soul. Again it appears in the last few minutes of ‘Solar’, grounding a 12-minute John Williams homage with a seamless transition. It would have been nice to see this experiment stretched further into the track rather than keeping it hidden until the end. Then again, it could be a passing glance at what’s to come in the future.

Themes of survival have crept into Sault’s work since the Untitled records, but Air seems to zoom out to the survival of the Earth itself. The alternate artwork of a boy looking down at the globe matches the band’s conceptual perspective, and each song could be a film score’s finale. With this, the lyrics to ‘Time Is Precious’ are all the more poignant: “Don’t waste time ‘cause time is precious” / “Use it wise and keep those treasures”. Air feels like a swan song for a gorgeous world in peril.

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