Though it is marketed and presented as a hip-hop album, from the very beginning the rhythms and melodies ofTHEESatisfaction‘s debut album are far more reminiscent of the cosmic chants of former Sun Ra Arkestra vocalist, June Tyson. Tyson joined the Arkestra in the late ’60s and quickly became one of its most distinctive contributors. It’s Tyson who sings “Space is the Place” and chants call and response with Ra on the film of the same name: “We bring to you the mathematics of the alter-destiny”. It’s a cosmic sensibility echoed in THEESatisfaction lyrical references to “empresses of time” and “gardens of galaxies”.
Far from the extensive, sprawling space ritual jazz workouts of the Arkestra, the Seattle-based duo err, if anything, on the side of brevity; every track an urgent apercu from the alter-destiny. The longest number on awE naturalE is a mere three minutes and forty-six seconds, and nearly a third of the tracks clock in at a hundred seconds or less. Within these short timespans, however, there is an enormous compression of ideas to be found, making the album an intense non-stop thrill ride through the stuttering, brightly coloured “eldritchtronica” of Oneohtrix Point Never and Gang Gang Dance; the dreamy, drowsy hypnagogic pop of Ariel Pink and Rainbow Arabia; and the neo-AfroFuturism of Shabazz Palaces, whose Palaceer Lazaro guests on two tracks on the record.
American media theorist Mark Dery once compared the fetishes and effigies of voodoo to the waldos and datagloves of science fiction, as “technologies of the sacred”. Between lyrics about being “wrapped up in the rapture” (on ‘Deeper’), “the black side of magic” and “the black Jesus” (on ‘Enchantruss’) and the ” … zero one one zero zero … ” binary code poetry of ‘Crash’, awE naturalE is thoroughly imbued with these technologies of the sacred: the rich harmonies of gospel and rattling, clattering percussive polyrhtyhms overlaid on the bleeps and bips of Sputnik and IBM; digital samplers become time machines; pitch-shifted vocals erupt in techno-pentecostalism.
THEESatisfaction have been making waves on the hip-hop scene in Washington State for a few years now, but finally exploded over the last nine months with guest spots on Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up record and a warm reception at South By South West earlier this year. After a handful of self-released, self-recorded EPs, mostly using Garageband and the built-in mic on a MacBook, this is their first proper album – and it’s clearly the most thrilling and assured debut of the year so far.