Review Summary: One day you'll love my pain.
On the 1st of November this year, British collective SAULT released five goddamn albums in one day. You may be justified in having missed or overlooked this feat, since the drop was pretty quiet, just a WeTransfer link on their website that contained every album for free before they were later shared to Bandcamp. Don't mistake the humble release format for humble music: the anonymous group's output in this one 24-hour cycle covered their original neo-soul/funk sound (11
), progressive and experimental gospel (UNTITLED (God)
, choral classical (AIIR
) and, most surprising of all, throwaway garage punk (Today & Tomorrow
). No-one knows for sure who's in SAULT, but producer Inflo, boardsmith behind Little Simz' recent classic Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
and Adele's 30
, is generally considered to be the leader, with Simz herself showing up for a stunning feature on UNTITLED (God)
I mention this not to make up for the review(s) of this series which I intended to write and never did - burnout is real, and five albums in one day is Kryptonite for any semi-adjusted music reviewer - but because SAULT's pentalogy acts as vital context for Little Simz's No Thank You
. This album, clocking in at nearly 50 minutes with ten songs, has no credited features but clearly plays as the brainchild of Simz, Inflo and other SAULT mainstay Cleo Sol, lending her angelic voice to almost every song here. It's not just the same creative team in common. Several songs on No Thank You
wrestle with faith in God in a world with so much wrong, unifying themes of 11
and UNTITLED (God)
, and tentpole songs "No Merci", "X" and "Broken" wind down into extended codas led by percussion and gospel chants, the core elements of Earth
. It's very possible, if surreal to consider, that all six of these (mostly excellent) albums came from the same recording sessions, spearheaded by three artists it's hard to argue aren't some of the finest of their generation.
But while No Thank You
may be a product, if not the capstone of this insane run, it also must stand on its own as an album, one in the unenviable position of being held up to the light of Little Simz's consistently great discography. In this sense, it's a worthy follow-up to Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
, trading that album's shimmering polish and clear curation for a looser, more raw aesthetic. Simz trails off and starts a bar too early here and there; the mix is unpolished, even straight-up grating in the case of the unfortunate miss "Sideways". The most important change here is the complete abandon of standard song structures, with choruses, codas and bridges swelling at the most unexpected moments to buoy up track lengths which regularly run in excess of six minutes. Cleo Sol's sublime 2021 album Mother
feels like another reference point for this meandering writing style, one where the emotion of the song determines the structure and not the other way around - but make no mistake, this is Little Simz's album through and through.
As the only person rapping. for as much as four verses on some songs, we find Simz here in a more introspective mood than the, ironically, often outward-facing ...Introvert
. That album saw her reckoning with her relationships with father, mother, sisters and lovers but rarely just herself, whereas No Thank You
is primarily concerned with faith, trauma and love in all their forms. Simz still puts herself into the shoes of others, as she did on "Little Q, Pt. 2" and does again on year-best contender "Broken":
"Generational trauma, you've had to deal with alone
No father, how do you become a man on your own?
Did the best that you could with the tools you were loaned
Didn't know how to break the mould and now you're raising a clone"
There's a larger point being made here which ties into the very personal story she's been telling us for years. The story has reckoned with absent fatherhood, broken love, systematic racism and sexism. None of these issues are made small or inferred to be over, but for a beautiful minute they fade into the backdrop, as Simz tells a simple story of falling in love on piano-led closer "Control". It's a small moment of grace in a story that is still ongoing, one which has granted us some of the most sublime music of the past several years and the sight of a great rapper transforming into a genuinely phenomenal artist. "One day you'll love my pain", a choir of heavenly voices tells us on the bone-chilling ending of "X": the subjective arc of your reaction to No Thank You
may depend on whether you hear it as a warning, a promise, or a simply and sadly told truth.