Credit: King Texas

If the narrative of TheeSatisfaction’s career thus far has been consistently intertwined with its Sub Pop labelmates and frequent collaborators Shabazz Palaces, then Earthee is the duo breaking free of that narrative and crafting one for itself. Earthee is in many ways a natural follow-up to 2012’s Awe Naturale, in that it takes the sounds of the group’s debut record—the spacey riffs on jazz, soul, and hip-hop—and expands on them. It’s an album that’s more melodically complex, more challenging, and more impenetrable, yet never unlistenable. There’s a level of engagement that the album demands that speaks to the urgency of the many messages it delivers. With song titles like “Planet For Sale” and “No GMO,” it’s clear that TheeSatisfaction is reveling in the political; this isn’t your average protest record, though. Anger and exigency permeate the album, at least on the lyric sheet, but the laid-back vibe gets at the overall theme of the record: interconnectivity.

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Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons immediately drive home that point with album opener “Prophetic Perfection,” conveying the message that this is a record that explores the ways in which we’re all cosmically connected to one another and the Earth, and how we’re wasting or ignoring that truth. For instance, the duo rap over soft synths and echoing, forceful percussion on “Planet For Sale” while lamenting our culture’s current state of personal disconnection; the erosion of our planet is only a stand-in for the erosion of more personal, everyday interaction. On “No GMO,” the duo uses sharp synth stabs to accentuate the theme of the natural versus the artificial, be that in the form of art, food, or love, while “Nature’s Candy” takes similar themes but infuses them with a sense of eroticism, the smooth lyrical flow just as seductive as the loose groove.

Earthee’s finest moment is “Blandland,” where, with the help of Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler, TheeSatisfaction pointedly lambasts the too-common trend of diluting black culture in order to repackage and sell it to a mainstream audience. Butler’s verse anchors the ethereal beat: “A story loosely based on us / Without no pain / And thus the main essence,” he states, an indictment of how cultural appropriation often silences the most important voices and smoothes out the rough edges of a culture in order to make it palatable to a larger audience. It’s a criticism plainly spoken, and the directness of the messages throughout the album creates a wonderful tension between form and content, as urgent sentiments bump up against mellower beats.

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Earthee is an album of textures and layers, both musically and thematically. It’s a dense record, one that takes time to unpack. The off-kilter rhythm of “Post Black Anyway” isn’t immediately inviting, but the abstract nature of the beat is necessary to underscore the social commentary that reveals itself after a few listens. The same can be said of “Werq,” which hardly boasts an identifiable hook but delivers a statement of empowerment amidst its swirling, unstable synth lines. Earthee is remarkable in its ability to balance the obscure and experimental with the direct and familiar. It’s an album that engages with the history of black culture while challenging the political, cultural, and musical status quos at every turn.