new saul williams album is a soundtrack for our times

July 24, 2019
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What is the soundtrack to now? Not the music that distracts us from the burning world, its dangers and disappointments, or the sounds that pacify and intoxicate us in the hopes that we forget momentarily, but the music that allows us to fearlessly feel it all. Saul Williams’s new album Encrypted & Vulnerable is the poet/musician’s attempt to give us a score for a current reality, where shit is so real that it’s surreal. 

Encrypted is the second installment in the MartyLoserKing trilogy, which follows the exploits of a Burundian miner-turned-hacker of the same screen name, who has become an outlaw and the founder of a village built from upcycled computer parts. According to Williams, this is his “first spoken word album.” That is a seemingly curious description for an artist on his sixth full-length, who first made his name doing slam poetry; but upon listening to the self-produced work, it’s clear that his words are meant to be in the foreground and the music — whether it be frenetic (“Fight Everything”) or hypnotically droning (“I Own The Night (Sufi Vision)”) — is meant to enhance those words with the texture of mood. 

If MartyrLoserKing character is the hero here, then the systems of exploitation and oppression are the villains. This isn’t humanity versus technology, or man versus machine, as much as it is a struggle to affirm humanity against machine manipulated by man’s worst impulses. And though the album is themed, the songs and the narrative here should not be approached like it is a straightforward story. Utilizing weighty statements like, “If entertainment is your sedative, your religion is hetero-normative” (“Experiment”), and  stripped-down, transportive soundscapes, Williams creates songs that both enthrall and create an uneasiness, reflecting their subject matter. The artist rages against oppression and parses his own feelings. In this way, he embodies both warrior and empath, and the contradiction of all us who seek to survive the times. This is what now sounds like.