AwE NaturalE

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From 2008 through 2011, across roughly a dozen self-released EP-length CD-Rs and digital downloads, Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White developed a singular form of Afro-futurist rap-and-soul from far left of center. They referenced Anita Baker and Ronnie Laws, spread their whimsical-yet-purposeful wordplay to titles like "I Nigress" and Sandra Bollocks Black Baby, and held their own with the best of Sa-Ra and Georgia Anne Muldrow. Shortly after appearing on Shabazz Palaces' Black Up, they signed to their fellow Seattle dwellers' label Sub Pop and created this, a stellar refinement of their sound that has its way with the brain and body throughout 30 fluid and varied minutes. Irons' MC'ing tends to be invitingly confrontational, while Harris-White, who has as much presence as a singer, has an equally paradoxical arousing/caressing quality. Their voices are so complementary -- Irons often sings, too -- that it would come as no surprise to be told that the couple are as telepathic as any set of twins. Their production work is just as notable. "Bitch," instantly halting, is little more than a bobbing bassline and knocking percussion, ideal for their patty-cake slam. "Queens" is blissful hypnosis via slow-motion disco funk. Closing theme "Naturale" -- "Queens of the stoned age/Empresses of time/Feel our energy floating through your mind" -- alternately thrashes and levitates. The only other voice is that of Shabazz Palaces' Ishmael Butler, who returns the favor with appearances on the knotty "God" and the slightly disorienting "Enchantruss"; he falls into the fabric of each track so inconspicuously that the trio could easily branch out into its own group. Had it not been for the underground releases, this disc would be one of 2012's best debuts. Its stimulating combination of cerebral and seductive qualities makes for a grip that is tight and lasting.

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