Immediate and straightforward as a songwriter yet open-ended and nuanced as a singer and producer, Catherine Harris-White’s work as SassyBlack has evolved remarkably since the dissolution of her acclaimed group THEESatisfaction. Ancient Mahogany Gold is the latest album to arrive during Harris-White’s restless creative streak, and it splits the difference between personal, of-the-moment expressions and long-term vision.
As a beatmaker and composer, SassyBlack revels in dashing expectations that come with certain melodic themes: The frictionless vocals and cardiac bass-kick percussion of opener “Left or Right” have all the hallmarks of a low-lit romantic overture, but as the song progresses, it becomes clear that any love will have to come from within—an extended bout of existential unease has left Harris-White feeling invisible to everyone but herself. “Do It” has the bump-and-grind tension and edge-of-euphoria anticipation that’s fueled R&B songs from Aaliyah onward, but every verse only feints towards a declaration of love. By the song’s end, Harris-White admits how difficult it all is (“We laugh and lust most days and nights / But in the end we know this shit ain’t right”). And the most life-affirming song on the album—a pulsebeat dose of minimalist funk and electric piano glow centered around a spiritual house-worthy hook—is named “Depression.”
But it’s not all ambivalence or anxiety; how can it be when she’s got determination? SassyBlack knows exactly what she’s doing (see “Recommendations,” which she’s not seeking), where she’s going (“Forward Thinking,” where she “can’t let you get in front of me”), and what inspires her (“Fluidity,” as in the adaptability that comes with freedom and vice-versa). She’s an Afrofuturist, but the kind whose idea of the future starts approximately one minute from now.