THEESatisfaction has a few simple requests, as outlined on “QueenS,” for those who want to engage their debut LP, awE naturalE. Among these: “Turn off your swag and check your bag,” “Move your groove thang,” but whatever you do, don’t funk with their groove.
It is a simple and organic enough philosophy, but it mostly encapsulates what THEESatisfaction is all about: channeling positive, distinctly black, all-loving energy towards something new. Through mysterious lines from some unknown female vocalists like “The calculations all point to a connection in space,” many of us were first introduced to THEESatisfaction on Shabazz Palaces’ spectacular Black Up (2011). Of course, Black Up was an album that sounded so refreshing because it seemed to float in its own, superior realm, free from the concerns (aesthetic or otherwise) of its hip-hop contemporaries. awE naturalE manages the same feat of admirable separateness, but does so in a notably less cosmic (and dynamic) fashion. Though, it’s also far groovier.
awE naturalE is “separate” in that it’s as though the female duo, comprised of Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White, hail from a faraway planet (or a new world) that hasn’t yet received the hip-hop radio waves from 2011. They didn’t get the memo on what sort of worldly, material concern or overt sexuality female emcees need to project in order to get attention. Instead, THEESatisfaction take a completely afro-futuristic perspective. That is, with an affixed gaze towards the stars and feet firmly rotted in black music traditions from the past, awE nautralE is an experiment on disassembling identity markers of whatever sort — racial, sexual, etc. — and reimagining them in a more ideal, futuristic form. Though, this experimental quality isn’t obvious because the product is so well-conceived.
Even at a mere 30-minute runtime, awE naturalE is a rich, challenging listen in most every respect. The instrumentals, all produced by Harris-White, jump from the understated jazz of “Bitch” to the immaculately flipped street funk of “Sweat.” They even manage to find room for three mostly instrumental pieces, including the penultimate “Crash” that, with softly sung binary code, sounds like an abstract piano-driven interpretation of a computer, well, crashing.
Even more distinct and interesting are Irons and Harris-White’s vocal schemes here. Irons spits lines with authority and loses no conviction when she shifts focus from herself to “you,” giving her the sound a too-cool omniscient force. (The also-supremely-cool Ismael Butler of Shabazz Palaces returns the aforementioned feature favor and shows up for two guest spots; to no one’s surprise, he sounds right at home.) Yet, there’s still enough introspection and vulnerability to prevent the album from ever feeling didactic. The hushed chants of “I need to prove myself” on “Needs” come late in the album, but provide a much-appreciated moment of insight for the listener. For as convinced as the pair sounds of everything they put forward, we at least know that they too feel the need for validation and worth in others’ eyes.
But most of the lines on awE naturalE are sung, and beautifully so, quite reminiscent of some of Lauryn Hill’s best work. THEESatisfaction has a gift for the catchy and instantly grooveable. Sung verses roll beautifully into infectious choruses: these are the songs we want to sing along to at first listen, but don’t out of respect, and instead later recant whatever parts we were able to remember.
One of those choruses is found on one of the album’s best songs: “Deeper” (which is also the album’s longest track). The alien-like music is restrained by a knocking baseline backs a deceptively simple chorus: “To know you is to love you / And to know you is to / Love you.” This is the kind of line that should sound corny, but seems to take on brand new meanings here; it’s also a line that unintentionally describes awE nautralE’s “grower” quality. Its brilliance becomes more apparent with each listen, but this might not be the case if there were just a few more minutes tagged onto the end of some of the jams. THEESatisfaction seem to have taken a punk approach to their songs here: they say what the need to say and cut the track, often leaving the listener wanting (worse, expecting) more. But that’s hardly a legitimate knock on such a conceptually tight work of art. Though hopes that it could eventually be considered a “important” release on a more broad scale might be too lofty, awE naturalE is at least a great, deep listen, and all that THEESatisfaction has done to challenge the listener warrants serious admiration.