Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Saa’s self-titled EP begins with the same track that introduced us to the duo earlier this year – the caressing stop-starts of Against Interpretation. A sly minor-key melody drives along a fresh take on giving voice to a frustrated lover, as the drums – dispersed in scatty patterns – mirror these pent up attempts at emotional understanding. There’s something soured in Against Interpretation’s delivery, and its shadowy expressionism sets the tone for the finest moments on Saa’s debut release.
Saa are a duo matching up Ash Levitas, a member of murky East London collective Old Apparatus, with Norwegian vocalist Linn Carin Dirdal. While Levitas’s home project frequently displays an atavistic take on UK underground sounds – as presented on Old Apparatus’s thrilling recent ‘Compendium’ compilation and on their excellent Dummy Mix – it’s the transferences of these forms onto Saa’s more overt pop sensibility that really intrigue. Trawl through the artwork that accompanies the releases for Old Apparatus’s Sullen Tone label, and you sense a similar faded mysticism as that presented in Shae’s misty choral interludes. Later, the mostly instrumental On Me is delivered as a more pastoral take on a ‘Compendium’ cut such as Boxcat, with its gulping energies soon let out through Dearth’s reverberating rolls.
Shae’s interludes feel indebted to Kate Bush’s mystique, so it’s appropriate that the EP closer The Coming & Going Of Delight is built around a sample from Bush's ‘The Dreaming’ album track All The Love. Along with Against Interpretation, The Coming & Going Of Delight also reads more like the title of an academic journal than that of a pop song; but it's also the strongest indicator of Dirdal’s talents. Featuring production with so much substance that it could happily have remained an instrumental – and enough stomp to not make it too far off from a Clams Casino beat – Dirdal nevertheless marks her territory instantly as she enters around the minute track. Like the opening track, it’s a sophisticated love song with an itching emotion, her voice flickering like fire as she pleads, "I've never needed you more”.
With all this shadowy, on-the-fringes imagery in mind, the track that stands out most on ‘Saa’ is Your Sword Is Your Silence. Despite having another title that skirts pretension to just come out plain smart, and possessing a melody as sweet as trickling honey, it doesn’t quite fit comfortably with what’s going on around it. While the Cocteau Twins are a clear influence throughout the whole EP, Your Sword Is Your Silence is also the point where the voice of Elizabeth Fraser is summoned rather too emphatically on a release that is elsewhere noticeable in its originality.
The mere facts of their first release coming on Left Blank – joining the heavyset likes of Vessel and Visionist – and Ash Levitas’s presence in Old Apparatus indicated right from the beginning that Saa were likely to offer something a bit different to your average electronic pop duo, and on their debut EP they live up to that expectation and then some. Here's hoping that they continue to keep one eye on the shadows as they move forward.
Left Blank released the 'Saa' EP on the 8th July 2013.