Early on during awE naturalE, Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris (aka Queens Of The Stoned Age aka Stas and Cat), the duo who make up THEESatisfaction, wonder “why are we always on the prowl and ready to attack?”, before admitting “surprisingly we’re promptly on track”. The real wonder is why they need to question their motives. awE naturalE is a smooth, seductive prowl through the high-points of early ’90s hip-hop and while Irons and Harris may be on the prowl, their own form of attack is not overtly threatening. Instead, it’s a sunshine-soaked odyssey through neo-soul and abstract rap, an excursion that is never disconcerting and never less than devilishly satisfying.
Stas and Cat featured prominently on Shabazz Palaces‘ Black Up album from 2011, which deservedly garnered considerable acclaim for the Seattle hip-hop collective’s melange of dubstep, wonky amid a foundation of heart-arresting bass. But the duo have been independently releasing EPs since 2008 via their Bandcamp page, with wonderfully succinct titles such as Sandra Bollocks Black Baby. Following in Shabazz’s footsteps by signing to Sub Pop, both acts shamelessly hop from genre to genre, in pursuit of an Afro-futurism constantly in flux.
The 13 tracks on the album begin with awE and end with naturalE. Most are as long as their single-word titles suggest, everything clocking in under the four minute mark. But it’s what Stas and Cat do during these mere snippets of blissful loops and samples that serves to catapult the album beyond the mediocre. The range of stylistic influences is never less than staggering, ranging from the rapid-fire gloss of TLC to the jazzed-up wanderings of Sun Ra. But this always functions as mere aspects of the duo’s approach – the staccato shifting of rhythm is anchored by the enthralling rhyme, panning between outright rapping and sweet singing seemingly at whim.
The band maintain that they are “political, but playfully political”. This is evinced by the lyrics which veer more towards generic commentary rather than outright agitprop, De La Soul rather than Public Enemy. But it does awE naturalE a disservice to judge it purely, or primarily, on lyrical finesse. The mishmash of styles creates a wonderful collision of sequenced beats and sudden musical detours. Deeper is the real stand-out, a brisk gallop through stuttering electronics with a vocal tagline cooing “to know you is to love you is to know you”. Lead single QueenS struts with a insistent groove, imploring wannabees to “leave your face at the door, turn off your swag, check your bag”. Enchantress hiccups and unsettles with a warped vocal sample before Shabazz appears, provoking three-way struggle for the mic. The latter is as extreme as it gets; the majority of awE naturalE sees a synth layering over the minimalist drum sounds, cushioning the recoil from abrupt syncopations.
Poised for an early summer release, awE naturalE has all the hallmarks of a blissful, feel-good summer album. Not blissful in the introspective, shoegaze sense but blissful in a far more kinetic sense – this is music which implies celebration rather than obliteration. The brevity of the tracks here ultimately serve as mere teasers – its impossible to say whether this would be a superior work had the songs been sketched out further but perhaps that’s also the beauty. awE naturalE gives us a beguiling glimpse of an unfettered talent that most certainly is promptly, and most satisfactorily, on track.