I’m not the type of listener who’s typically drawn to hip-hop, but after being referred to Astronautalis, I immediately found him fascinating. I’ve heard bits and pieces from his first couple of albums, and all of his third and fourth, and I’m still scratching my head of what to make of one Andy Bothwell. Astronautalis is an artist I consider not so much a typical emcee, but more of a bohemian wordsmith in the vein of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, albeit delivered over a heavy beat. His voice on new album This Is Our Science even sounds aesthetically indebted to Waits. However, his lyrics are sometimes outside the realm of even Waits’ imagination.
There are multiple names mentioned throughout the album: Joni Mitchell, Thomas Jefferson, King Charlemagne, Dimitri Mendeleev, Lionel Terray, Sisyphus and Oedipus. And there are what appear to be references to “The Iliad” and “The Canterbury Tales,” as well. From that alone, you might correctly presume that this is some of the most literate music you’ll ever hear. And yet the topics of the songs hold a heavy philosophical bent as well. “The River, The Woods” and “This Is Our Science” examine Bothwell’s views on life and how one lives it. “Thomas Jefferson” is one of the most thoughtful antiwar songs I’ve heard, with some similarities with Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heavens Door.” And like Dylan, Bothwell is a natural when it comes to the acidic break-up song, with “Contrails” as a great example (with Tegan Quin of Tegan & Sara on background vocals, no less).
The instrumentation reaches into places well outside the standard DJ-emcee dynamic. “Measure The Globe” is primarily piano based, with some country fills on the keys. And most tracks also feature acoustic guitar, while hints of psychedelia pop up here and there, too. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how best to define Astronautalis. But the important common factor that runs through all of the various sounds and approaches on This Is Our Science is Astronautalis’ unique, unconventional and highly intriguing vision.