In this cloud-computing age where everyone is a fan of a bit of everything, it’s good to see Sub Pop, the label most famous for bringing grunge to the world, continue to define itself not by genre but merely by brilliant music. They released their first hip-hop album in Shabazz Palaces’ much-lauded Black Up last year, which featured Afro-futurist Seattle duo THEESatisfaction; the latter now get their own Sub Pop release with their debut full-length.
Opening with a fanfare of stumbling polyrhythms and speaker-blowing pomp before swerving into nimble, pared-down poetry recitation, the pair recall the boom-bap collages of J Dilla and Madlib, with a touch of Erykah Badu’s simultaneous languor and clarity. With constant gear changes like these, and songs that rarely break three minutes, the record is full of personality and verve, a feeling cemented by the rapped and sung vocals. Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White recite everyday dramas of sex and politics and give them a magic mushroom logic, full of tangents and florid imagery; Palaceer Lazaro of the aforementioned Shabazz Palaces returns the favor on a brace of tracks mid-album, laying his nimble non-sequiturs over “God,” with its beat like an elegantly stuck Bill Evans record, plus the deranged funhouse of “Enchantruss.”
Meanwhile, the filtered pop-rap of “Queens” could have come from Alan Braxe or Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter in their more laidback moods, and it’s easy to imagine Lil B waxing surreal over the thickly aquatic “Juiced.” Irons and Harris-White have lyrical flair, melodic gifts and a varied production voice, blending it all in a sensually blunted modern soul music. But like Sub Pop, you should forget genre labels — to tie this record to one is to undermine its richness.