Astronautalis is Andy Bothwell, but you wouldn’t know that from his newest album, Pomegranate.
Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters, Astro’s previous studio project, was an album very much tied to its creator. The majority of songs were metaphors of experience without a setting, poetry with only its speaker to anchor it in the real world of the listener. There were ruminations about death, lust, and the boredom that comes with riding the sinusoidal wave of existence. Also included was a wildly exaggerated account of one of Astro’s very own dinner dates (“My Dinner with Andy”) and an intensely apt and compact reflection upon the portrait of the artist in the song “Down and Out in the Bold New City of the South”:
Spell it out, fog on your windowpane
Written backwards at your expense
For everyone else’s gain.
Pomegranate, on the other hand, takes us to a new realm outside Astro’s head in every song. The lion’s share of tracks on the album are more concerned with telling a stories in a variety of different points in spacetime rather than mulling over the unfortunate laws that govern the life and death drive of every body on the grid of 4 dimensions. Taking us from the life of a desperate conman, to a pre-Ian Fleming tale of an espionage during the Opium Wars, then to the heresy trial of William Robertson Smith, to Washington on the Delaware…if Thomas Pynchon picked up mic at Scribble Jam, he might sound like Astro in Pomegranate.
In addition, Astro makes many formal excursions in his latest album, having fun with the timbre of his voice to provide a wider range for his tried and true instrument of choice. The instrumental backing to this album plays a more important role on Pomegranate than Astro’s past albums (indeed, more than most rap albums in general), each new stroke of rhythm and melody painting a soundscape of a whole new world. This perhaps accounts for the map artwork visible on Astro’s myspace page, while simultaneously, as it is a map of Thessaly, Greece, alludes to the Myth of Persephone, in which the Pomegranate plays a prominent part (and is referenced in the song “Two Years Before The Mast”). This, once again, points out how throughly researched this album is, and, when coupled with the widely divergent styles of musicianship backing Astro’s rapping (the action-packed percussion of “Trouble Hunters”; the dripping underground haunt in “Mr. Blessington’s Imperialist Plot”) makes the album read much like a novel or anthology of stories. The album seems much more invested in narration of events, the action of history, and the development of some sort of setting, much different from his previous work Mighty Ocean, which was more affected by “the little bits of life that hurt.” That is not to say that the albums are without connection. Astro still finds ways to poke his poetry out from under his novelworks, signing his crooked signature “astronautalis” on each and every song. Astronautalis is Andy Bothwell, but Pomegranate marks something of a small dissociation between the two.