Friday, March 30, 2012

Album Review - THEESatisfaction: awE naturalE

awE naturalE
Rating: Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It

Female duo THEESatisfaction, partners Stasia "Stas" Irons and Catherine "Cat" Harris-White, have been creating buzz recently with 2 EP released on-line, a noted collaboration with Shabazz Palaces, and now the release of their debut album awE naturalE. The album is a smooth, spacey, jazzy, and hip exploration of retro-modern R&B and hip-hop, recalling Erykah Badu and Digable Planets equally. As former Digable Planets member Butterfly is in Shabazz Palaces, it makes more sense, and his influence permeates the record. While there are correlations with the Digable Planets' sound, awE naturalE is not merely Stas and Cat singing/rapping over Digable Planets-style tracks; it is more of a feeling or a mood. Lyrically, the album is difficult to pin down, as there is nothing very overt here, mainly stream-of-conscious/impressionistic lyrics and raps that evoke more than they implicitly spell things out. The topics span everything from feminism, racism, class warfare, and religion. Cat, the singer, has a lovely voice, throaty and muscular, while Stas, the rapper, provides a militantly rigid style that seems to suit the music well; each complimenting as well creating an interesting tension between each other.

While the women are each individually talented in their own rights, the songs where the two carefully mesh their styles together are the highlights of awE naturalE. "Needs," a slinky, slick track has Cat singing the lyrics while Stas flows in and out of the verses, switching halfway to where Cat punctuates the rapped verses with snippets of vocals. This dual approach takes over the trip-hop leaning "Deeper" which motors along on a head bobbing throb of bass, skittering drums, and organ drones. The clipped delivery of Stas on the rapped verses becomes almost claustrophobic, until the earthy tones of Cat's vocals take over, providing relief. Best track "Enchantruss" loops the women's vocals into an element of the music, creating a hallucinatory effect accentuated by the military-like drumming. The push and pull of the rapping and singing adding to the mix, with some contrast from a guest rap turn from Shabazz Palaces' Ishmael Butler.

Several tracks go for a looser, jazzier feel. The charming "Existinct" marries loops with sparkling piano fills and a subtle vocal turn from Cat. "God," featuring another rap cameo from Ishmael Butler, floats along a whimsical piano motif, Cat's voice fluttering along the surface while Stas pops in and out of the mix. Cat and Stas seem restlessly creative on the album, never sticking to any one style or genre for long, choosing to stretch their vision in different ways. The smooth horn-driven funk of "Sweat" is a good detour from the sometimes overly dense, harder tracks. While the laid-back flow and roll of "QueenS" creates a perfect summery groove, the women imploring everyone to "turn off the swag/check your bag/whatever you do/don't funk with my groove."

At 30 minutes, awE naturalE feels and is short. Marring the flow of the record, there are too many short instrumental passages that don't truly add anything to the experience, and some tracks, like "Bitch" have a nice swagger and attitude to them, but at 1:24 never really goes anywhere. Without these superfluous tracks, THEESatisfaction would have had one killer EP on their hands, but, unfortunately, with them we are left with merely a promising full length album.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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