Once you find out that Astronautalis was born to a Texas train man with a nose crooked from bar fights and a pretty Kentucky girl who ran away from home at 17 to become a photographer, it becomes clear that he didn’t stumble into the life of a drifter, he was born into it. With a poet uncle who lived off horse betting and hitchhiking, grandfathers who were spies, sailors, and test pilots, and over 500,000 miles of touring under his own belt, you have to wonder where the tales in Astronautalis’ music end and the life of Andy Bothwell begins. Currently settled (for now) in Minneapolis, by way of Seattle, by way of Dallas, by way of Jacksonville Beach, FL; Bothwell has spent almost every waking moment of the last 7 years on the road, playing shows, earning scars, collecting/giving tattoos, grinding out a cult like fan base, and living up to his proud, storied, and whiskey soaked blood line.
Having started in music over 15 years ago as a battle rapper, Astronautalis’ roots are planted firmly in hip-hop. However, the sounds and styles on his albums are an animal not so easily caged, and his latest release, “This Is Our Science” is no exception to that tradition of wild genre bending. Like previous records Bothwell uses that limitless approach to aid in his vivid storytelling, but where This is Our Science takes a turn from tradition, is in the subject matter itself. While previous records read like historical fiction, documenting the lives of the bygone, the footnotes, and the forgotten, “This is Our Science” is pure autobiography. While there are flash references to scientists from the Age of Enlightenment and old dead French mountaineers, these ghosts serve merely as parallels, rest stops in the story of the last 7 years of Bothwell’s romance with the road.
To help shape this memoir, Bothwell called in help from the cadre of musical friends he has made in his travels across 4 continents, and created a sound as diverse as the cast that’s behind it. Once again under the guidance of Grammy nominated producer John Congleton (Modest Mouse, Bill Callahan, St. Vincent), This is Our Science finds rock darlings like Tegan Quin (Tegan & Sara), Radical Face (Electric President), members of Midlake & The Riverboat Gamblers all waltzing in time to the work of P.O.S. (Rhymesayers), Alias (Anticon/Sage Francis), Cecil Otter (Wugazi), Lazerbeak (Doomtree), and more of indie hip-hop’s finest. The resulting album is the full realization of everything Bothwell has been chasing after for 7 years. Neither a rap record, nor a rock record, it is a work that finally captures the vein popping intensity and high melodrama of his famous live shows. All the while, maintaining the steadfast literary tradition and masterful storytelling of his previous studio albums.
From the pounding drums and thick synths of the record’s opener, “The River, The Woods”, the roots in rap are clear. But, that foundation quickly crumbles as the choir swells on the dark electronic gospel of the title track, “This is Our Science”. After the banging funeral dirge of “Thomas Jefferson” (featuring Doomtree rapper Sims), the record blazes into the thick of Bothwell’s vagabond life with heart breaking road ballad of “Measure the Globe”. While songs like undeniably catchy, “Contrails” (featuring Tegan Quin) and the epic rock anthem, “Secrets On Our Lips” carry an astounding pop sensibility, there is something unnerving behind those big choruses and driving drums. In fact, there is something hiding behind every corner of this record, and much like the road Astronautalis travelled to make it, there is no map, no guide book, no way to prepare yourself, all you can do is press on forward and see what is waiting for you just around the bend.