THEESatisfaction Soar in Psychedelic Debut

THEESatisfaction -- awE naturalE -- Sub Pop -- 4 STARS

COURTESY Sub Pop

Rappers Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White come straight from the Seattle rap scene, but judging by their latest album, it wouldn’t be surprising if they had roots in outer space. Irons and Harris-White make up the rap duo THEESatisfaction, and their first official album, “awE naturalE,” blends space-age tones and extensive use of synthesizer with cooing, fluid vocals to create 12 tracks that sound at once comforting and alien. Irons and Harris-White define their music as being “funk-psychedelic feminista sci-fi epics.” However uncanny that may sound, they succeed effortlessly in the genre that they themselves have coined.

The group’s older projects, including work with Seattle-based rap collective “Shabazz Palaces,” show the group’s ambitious trajectory, which leads into the rich atmosphere where “awE naturalE” floats—buoyant with passionate croons, smooth grooves, and richly intelligent lyrics. At points in the album, the work becomes too dedicated to being spacey and mystical and wanders away from its true treasure—Harris-White’s and Irons’ uncanny knack for funny, moving lyrics that deal with everyday moments of both frustration and beauty. The two rappers assert this skillful lyricism early on, and “awE naturalE” is enthralling as a result.

The album opens with a short track marked by heavy use of synth and beeping tones. The deep, low repetition of a single word, “yeah,” in pulsing, wave-like crests of sound, leads beautifully into the second track, “Bitch,” which is one of the best on the album. Here, Irons and Harris-White are at their sharpest, playing off one another’s vocals over a bed of deceptively simple drumbeats. The lyrics are sharp and stylish as they tell a concise story, “Five bitches sitting next to the rug / They were flying on that carpet, and they needed some love.” The song breaks with a delicious exclamation, “Oh! I am the bitch on the side,” as each word is suspended in its own breathy bubble. The song is infectious but not sugary.

“QueenS,” the first single on the album, and potentially a stand alone in the rap genre for including the word “cardigan,” is a brilliant, rippling track that begins with a line that can be read as THEESatisfaction’s mission statement: “Leave your face at the door, turn off your swag...Don’t funk with my groove, whatever you do.” After the electronic tones of “QueenS” melt the listener down into a puddle of dance, the album takes a turn for the darker, with muddy, pensive tracks like “Existinct,” and “God,” which introduces a throaty horn accompaniment to the duo’s standard synth production.

However, several songs toward the end of the album are weakened by heavy-handed use of esoteric imagery. The song “Enchantruss,” much like its name, reaches slightly too far into the abstract with lines like, “Twirling towards destiny...An adventure to explore, perhaps a way to soar.” These lyrics fall flat in comparison to earlier biting, funny lines like, “When you look at the surface the world is flat / Flatter than your ass.”

However, the few songs in which Harris-White and Irons delve too far into their “empresses of time” personas, one of the duo’s many monikers, do not present any real threat to the quality of the album as a whole. The lyrics, which are passionate and sharply intelligent for the better part of the album, are complimented surprisingly well by the cool, futuristic tones of synthesizer and understated drums. THEESatisfaction is charting a course for outer-space, and its members have the raw talent and drive to pull listeners, as well as other artists, up with them.

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