Astronautalis - Pomegranate
Release Date: September 23rd, 2008
Record Label: Eyeball Records
It might be the scratchy lounge sway of Andy Bothwell, the mind behind Astronautalis that makes Pomegranate. Or it might be the dramatic and dark pop working itself into majestic layers and transitions. It could even be the glorious verses of tragic philosophical interpretation and historical story telling. So, it's a lot of things, really. That's the immediate beauty of the Eyeball Records full-length: that nothing on Pomegranate can be taken at face value. The lyrics should be combed through with a delicate, open-minded comb. The sound level should be appreciated at the perfect volume of loud. Intricate details should be internalized and analyzed. That's how Pomegranate gets gritty and graceful, but only if you let it.
Heavy percussion matched with hard-hitting piano keys makes songs like "Secrets of the Undersea Bell" powerful and something Tom Waits would toast a bourbon to, maybe even create himself if he could freestyle like Bothwell does on "Two Years Before The Mast". Bothwell's modern edge (like the rapping, the fresh elements and experimentation) is more than a gimmick, and even if it was, he owns it. Other songs like "Mr. Blessington's Imperialist" and "The Story of My Life" spin quick words too, a gonzo journalist sculpting and exposing truths with occasional hallucinogenic qualities. Between the cuts of layering instrumentals and Astro's way with words, Pomegranate comes easy even though it's a complex piece.
Bothwell brings in guests, like the female vocalist Sarah Jaffe on "17 Summers" and "Two Years Before The Mast" or the stylings of MC P.O.S. on "The Story of My Life". Both artists shine just as much as Bothwell. Guess he knows how to pick 'em. These duets give the album a vocal variety and small break from Bothwell's weighty timbre. "The Most Important Track on the Album", which is nearly three minutes of pure silence, does the same but pointlessly.
Many of Pomegranates textures are visual - the bird chirps on "An Episode of Sparrows", the electrified bass on "Trouble Hunters", or the rough strut of closer "The Story of My Life". Organized randomness of bands like Modest Mouse don't fall too far from Astronautalis' tree, but there is a swagger of his own that Bothwell perfects. By the time the album comes to a close, the twists and turns have fallen into place, the themes and morals have made their point, grander plans have revealed themselves, and a listener - in this case: me - are convinced. Convinced of Bothwell, who is rip with emotion but fleshing his tough skin. Convinced of its tumbling, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas groove and production. Convinced of its pounding keys, punctuating questions and exclamation marks into gorgeous lines of romantic defeat. Lines that, as a writer, I swoon over.
This man is a musician of high regard, but he's also an outstanding lyricist. In the space between Pomegranate and me, Andy Bothwell used his timbre to doctor all the good words in the room. Everyone else may be a harder nut to crack, but I'm crumbled.
This album is in my top five albums of 2008, easily ... hence the high score. I've been reviewing a lot of things I really like recently, but this album is just so good. I don't think that it's the kind of thing that can be universally liked, or even appreciated, but for those that are into it, I think they'll really love it.