awE naturalE 4/5 What is it about Sub Pop and Seattle that renders so many of its musicians musical omnivores? The label’s most famous signing, Kurt Cobain, melded Black Sabbath’s gnarled sonic aesthetics and the vocal harmonies of The Beatles. Sub Pop’s first hip-hop artist, Ishmael Butler – the brains behind louche ’90s jazz-hop act Digable Planets –moved to Seattle and, as Shabazz Palaces, ended up cranking out avant rap that sets monolithic blasts of juddering digibass against jazzy sax.
And in Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White, the female duo who make up THEESatisfaction, Sub Pop has taken a pair of Seattle residents who bonded over a love of Jill Scott and neo-soul, then helped them put out an album that’s… well… not exactly Floetry. According to them, this is ‘lo-fi rebel hip-hop’. Yet ‘Sweat’ is more of a 21st-century update on blaxploitation soul, slowed down and roughed up with squawking brass.
Earthseed’ is all haunting piano cadences, ‘Juiced’ is a gauzy instrumental that funks along in a fug of Wurlitzer and off-kilter, wonky Dilla-ish beats, while ‘naturalE’ closes the album by veering off into the realm of rock-dance hybrid.
In terms of vocals, their raps veer between oblique word collages and eloquent political statements. Their rhymes, though, are few and far between (Ishmael Butler’s guest vocals notwithstanding), with the bulk of their words delivered with a soulful croon and melodies that on occasion border on pop.
It’s an album that’s awkward at times – notably on ‘Crash’, where they appear to be singing in binary – but it’s an ambitious, heavily funky attempt to unite soul, jazz, R&B and hip hop into one electronica-inflected whole. It’s artistically brave, musically forward-thinking and sounds like nothing else around at the moment.