In the liner notes of This Is Our Science, the fourth album from Minneapolis indie-rapper Astronautalis, the exposition offered for a song titled ‘Thomas Jefferson’ is a quote from the man himself: “We will be soldiers, so our sons may be farmers, so their sons may be artists.” Astronautalis is the moniker for Andy Bothwell who has always had a penchant for the looking to the past. Through his grasp of causality, he weaves myth and metaphysics into a combustive blend of indie-infused hip-hop.
Released: September 13, 2011
Genre: Alternative hip hop
Label: Fake Four Inc
1. “The River, the Woods” 3:19
2. “This Is Our Science” (feat. Isaiah Toothtaker and P.O.S) 3:46
3. “Thomas Jefferson” (feat. Sims and Mike Wiebe) 3:31
4. “Measure the Globe” 2:59
5. “Dimitri Mendeleev” 3:37
6. “Midday Moon” 4:56
7. “Contrails” (feat. Tegan Quin) 2:58
8. “Holy Water” 2:57
9. “Secrets on Our Lips” 4:40
10. “Lift the Curse” 4:51
11. “One for the Money” 0:10
Trying to pin Astronautalis into a particular genre is tricky; his catalogue is malleable and filled with intriguing turns. Vocally, he meanders between feverish rapping and dialled back blues-tinged talking. He’s even more adventurous musically; you’ll hear minimalist electronics, piano, pensive beats, and raspy guitars you’d expect from a band like Modest Mouse. While previous albums have been notable for their experimentation, This is Our Science is a more cohesive effort and feels more personal for it. He’s still brandishing what he calls ‘historical fiction hip-hop’, but these stories are more overtly biographical.
Bothwell’s articulate and literary style of writing and the vast, vivid imagery he pulls from make for a cerebral listening experience. He manages to completely sidestep the misogyny associated with hip-hop by widening the scope and incorporating the human condition. It’s evident on the incendiary title track. He contends, “Put up your fingertips if you’re living your life exactly the way the you wished/ And for the rest of us with our hands on our hips, our work is never done, we are Sisyphus.”
There is a consistent motif of the grand search, for greater meaning and certainly for catharsis. The rapping is utterly visceral on opening track ‘The River, the Woods’, and the song is unhinged even further by the rapid, single-key piano strikes that are layered into the ending. The intensity that his live shows are famed for permeates this record; like on ‘Holy Water’, a song that sounds like it was conjured during an exorcism in a backwater church. He uses religious dogma to arrive at this: “We’ know there’s something to which we’re blind/ Because it’s hope that pulls us forward till we die.”
Bothwell’s search continues with the pretty, piano-led ‘Measure the Globe’. It highlights his need to find forward progress in spite of all his learned uncertainty. He hits on this again during ‘Contrails’, which shows off his sharpest straight-up rapping, concluding that “The risk is not a slipped grip at the edge of the peak/ the real danger is to lurk at the base of the thing.” The track features Tegan Quinn of indie-pop darlings Tegan and Sara.
If you follow him on Twitter (@Astronuatalis) you get the sense that Andy Bothwell is a modern-day nomad. He has always posed questions with his work, but on This Is Our Science, his best yet, he makes a natural habitat out of the unknown.