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Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

March 27, 2012 at 7:12 AM

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THEESatisfaction mixes up great homemade hip-hop on 'awE naturalE'

Listen to the whole album here


The key lyric on local duo THEESatisfaction's new album, "awE naturalE," first comes into play on the song "Sweat," when Stasia Irons raps "anticipation of a bite from the apple of yes."

It's a hypnotic song about having no proof, but knowing in your heart that this is going to be a great thing. That's the energy of the album.

Critics will tie it to jazz-rap from the '90s and alternative hip-hop of today (A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Shabazz Palaces, Odd Future), but there is no recipe for Irons' and singer Catherine Harris-White's homemade sound.

THEESatisfaction headlines at Neumos Thursday with local deejays DJs and producers Chocolate Chuck and OC Notes. The three acts played Columbia City Theater two years ago and three people showed up. But now that THEESatisfaction is on the famous Sub Pop Records and affiliated with Shabazz Palaces, the show will probably sell out.

"awE naturalE" is hip-hop because there is rapping. But the collage-style backing music — inspired by Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker and Sun Ra — blurs genres. Beats and notes come from Irons and Harris-White themselves and musicians Erik Blood and Shabazz Palaces, but it's never clear if you're listening to a byte or a human. The sequencing is masterful, especially tracks four through six — the birdlike stomp of "QueenS" followed by the lilting "Existinct" and simmering "Deeper."

The quality and order of songs make it the first magnum opus in a career by a group that has daringly shared lesser work in the past, perhaps practice sessions (posting everything at theesatisfaction.bandcamp.com).

One thing that's been missing over the years is suitably deep bass. That's fixed now. The fully developed low-end on "awE naturalE" comes from Blood, who played bass on the album and recorded it. Known for recording Shabazz Palaces' masterpiece "Black Up" last year, which re-established Seattle hip-hop in a more artistic light worldwide, and which THEESatisfaction performed on, he guides but does not control "awE naturalE."

The tracks with Palaceer Lazaro (of Shabazz Palaces) rapping are special highlights. "Enchantruss" sounds like humans melting. Probably it is THEESatisfaction using a computer to layer and treat their own voices. But who knows? On the stuttering, jazzlike "God," Lazaro flips Irons' apple concept, spinning a gangster yarn and pinpointing the moment when his protagonist decides to carry a gun, calling that the "eating of the apple."

If there is an overarching philosophy on the album it is "you are what you do." On "God," Irons treats her behavior extremely intentionally, resolving "no more cutting little 'cutes' / no more slide-bys." The contrast between that kind of rigor and artistic decisions which are left-field and free is the engine that drives "awE naturalE." Each noise and word is exactly where it's supposed to be — down to the capitalization of the title, which symbolizes the last shall be first.


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