Astronautalis - Pomegranate
Record Label: Eyeball Records
Release Date: September 23, 2008
Eyeball Records is quickly making a name for themselves, and at least in my eyes, is also beginning to be almost revered. You never know what genre the artists they sign are going to be, but they're just about always talented and entertaining. The newest of these signings, Astronautalis, doesn't fall short of Eyeball's growing reputation. This one-man-band's latest effort Pomegranate mixes the freestyling verses of hip-hop and the intimate and moody styling of folk to create a great and, somehow, cohesive sound. Slurring together two genres that formerly belonged far apart, Astronautalis (a.k.a. Andy Bothwell) has created an album that is as interesting as it is entertaining.
The moment I began to play the album, I knew it was something I'd yet to hear. While "The Wondersmith and His Sons" stays within the folk styling for the most part, you still see a definite hip-hop influence. In this track, as with many of the others, Bothwell's creativity is almost overwhelming; he seamlessly mixes a folk-like sound with a canvas that's proper for his hip-hop-inspired vocals. Even with the excellent instrumentation throughout the album, the vocals are what keep you tethered to it. Whether he's lulling you with his soft singing or spoken vocals in "17 Summers," singing with a hearty swagger in "Secrets Of The Undersea Bell," or just straight-up rapping in "Two Years Before The Mast," his vocals aren't lacking. The way Bothwell changes his vocals up from song to song is really one of the more interesting aspects of the album. Scattered guest vocalists also help to diversify the sound, such as the female vocals in "17 Summers" and "Two Years Before the Mast," and the male guest in "The Story Of My Life." The album's also extremely moody. While most of the songs have a dark undertone, some of them, such as "Trouble Hunters," evoke different feelings, and the changing feel of it makes for a great listen.
Unlike a lot of modern acts, Astronautalis doesn't short us on intelligent lyrics and songwriting ability. Most of the songs stand as short stories, while others just keep me listening with their almost haunting messages (see "My Old Man's Badge"). The first track, "The Wondersmith and His Sons," starts out the album with some tightly-knit lyrics about the life of a scam artist. He gets the point of the song across with lines like "Right now I'm on the road again / This hotel's home to me / They found the other skeleton face down in the stream" and "Floating on the wind again / On the tail of my quarry / A woman weak for charming men / Who's holding what I need / She'll leave her window cracked for me / And I'll float in like a breeze." With a close listen to the lyrics, each of the songs read out into their own little narrative.
I find myself liking both the folk-appreciative songs, and the songs geared to Bothwell's rapping. "The Secret of the Undersea Bell" is easily one of my favorite tracks; starting out with a little chorus snippet, it quickly jumps into a hip-hop feel with some very interesting instrumentation behind it. Bothwell's delivery on this track is what really stands out though; his tone and the almost urgent feel of the delivery make it a fun, quick listen. "Trouble Hunters" is also worthy of praise. It's a fight song, featuring a powerful chorus: "I know it's hopeless / Hell ain't big enough to hold us back / We hunt for trouble tonight," and the great lyrics near the end of the song feature the lines "We've got ourselves a fight song / For the wool they'll pull over your eyes / Tell the devil we're coming right home tonight, tonight." As in the other songs, the dynamic vocal delivery is what really makes this song great: Bothwell shifts between almost lazy rapping to energy-filled declarations and everything in between.
Overall, this album is a complete masterpiece. While there are a few very slight missteps (such as the "witty" eleventh track, which features just silence), the album is marvelous. While it may not appeal to everyone, there will be few people that escape it's charm. Eyeball has found another great artist in Astronautalis, and has released an album that is easily one of my favorites of the year.
i thought the silence spoke volumes. expecially considering the track that follows. this is a great fucking record. and too bad i heard it in 2009, because it should have made my top 10 that printed last year.