For someone who does not attend rap performances often, I found myself heading to Astronautalis last spring at The Sett with a burning sense of excitement. After watching just a few of his music videos including “Contrails” where he poses as a blind beggar but later drives off with Tegan Quin from Tegan & Sara, and “The Wondersmith and His Sons” where the poor guy is being dragged in a desert only to find himself next to a car explosion, I realized this artist was more than the hip-hop/rap genre itself. My standards are exceedingly high for any rap artist, only because my heart belongs to most alternative rock musicians. But I will always hold the highest respect to those rap artists who convince me otherwise. Astronautalis is one of those artists.
Starting his career in 2003, Astronautalis, also known as Andy Bothwell, released You and Yer Good Ideas in Jacksonville, Florida and later signed with Fighting Records to release his second album The Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters. The beginning of his career differs from the beginning of his talent though, for he often participated in rap battles at a young age. Battling may have been the perfect sharpening tool to define his style that lead to his release of Pomegranate in 2008.
His most recent release however, is what needs to be highlighted. This is Our Science of 2011, may contain the most extreme sense of raw emotion felt while listening to an album straight through. First on the track is “The River, The Woods,” which combines Bothwell’s intoxicating and thought-provoking lyrics with a hearty dose of anger immersed in the chorus. The intoxicating lyrics continue in “This is Our Science,” a song that slowly and quietly grabs your attention, but amplifies moments of empowerment where you’re told, “you can toss blades of grass to the wind or you can swing fists,” or “say you’re gonna die/ well so will you.” Both songs introduce the album and readily explain that Astronautalis does not mess around with lyrical fluff.
Yes, Bothwell begins the album with a fury introduction, but then we find songs like “Contrails” where a witty, smirky side to his personality is exposed. Since he repeatedly states, “that’s why I wrote this song,” one wonders, why did he write this song? But after deciphering what he is actually saying, since his lyrics are sung impossibly fast, there’s a story being told where “every Harry, Dick, and Tom left her very/ Fickle arms palming a broken promise ring.” Why not continue this theme of story telling with “Secrets on Our Lips” where Bothwell sings of a lost love, “I know they say it’s over, we can’t go on like this/ the moonlight makes us ardent and the sun returns our sense,” and creates a piece that is simply, beautiful.
And then it hits you. Each song on This Is Our Science has a different emotion hidden but heightened in both the instrumental background and each word that was carefully chosen. An album full of truth is what makes This is Our Science a genuine, personal connection between Bothwell and his audience.
That personal connection continues even live, because the stage is where you witness those buried emotions resonate off of Bothwell with every drop of sweat and strained vein that assure you he holds nothing back in a performance. The most impressive part about Andy Bothwell is not the fact that each song is impeccably performed with every word on beat, but instead that he is also able to spontaneously create a piece based off of topics picked from the crowd and it ends up being nothing less than a studio produced song. Lucky for UW Madison, Astronautalis will be joining WHY? on February 22nd at The Sett where you can witness the performance wonder yourself.
The man will forever hold my respect. And I will add my cliché statement: I don’t always listen to rap, but when I do, I listen to Astronautalis.