Album review: “This Is Our Science” by Astronautalis

It seems like we’re all lost
We can follow this river back home

This Is Our Science, the brilliant and tension-filled new album from Astronautalis, tackles grand themes in one breath, deeply private moments in the next. And there are a lot of breaths here: the breakneck pace of some of the songs leaves a word person like me chasing the elusive meanings.

The effect is exhilarating.

I’ve listened to This Is Our Science a few times in recent days, and the song that keeps rising to the top is “Measure the Globe”, which features a beautiful, unexpected piano
and reflective lyrics that seem to put two lovers at the mercy of bigger forces:
“I couldn’t tell you dear which one whispers in my ear
The devil or St. Andrew
But I know that it’s time to go.”

“No, there ain’t no right way to measure the globe.”

We should be getting a few official videos coming soon from the album, but here’s Astronautalis performing “Measure the Globe” live and acoustic at The Proper Barbershop in L.A., with Ceschi Ramos (who had a fabulous but poorly attended show at The Wormhole a couple of months ago) and his guitar filling in for the studio’s piano:

Untitled from astronautalis on Vimeo.

“Dmitri Mendeleev”, named for the creator of the Periodic Table, includes references ranging from Archimedes to Joni Mitchell. “Thomas Jefferson” features particularly dense layers plus great vocals from Sims and Mike Wiebe. The title track evokes violent imagery (“Tell me where you’re going with that knife in your hand”) and the futility of Sisyphus.

Astronautalis at the Savannah Stopover

“Lift the Curse” has a plaintive, lonely opening: “Another summer evening, the city’s barely breathing, / It just ain’t the same, / It just ain’t the same without you.” But the song builds — the vulnerable vocals become strident, angry; those dense musical layers become almost cacophonous before retreating. “Holy Water” — a hip hop hymn — is apocalyptic: “I dance upon the edge of death just to prove that I’m alive.” “Secrets On Our Lips” offers a transitory sexual respite from the sweep of time: “It’s not a bad life to live, making out all day.”

Tegan Quin (of Tegan and Sara) brings a softer ethereal pop to the vocals in “Contrails”, which Astro balances with occasional passages that feel like freestyle.

And if all of this seems like a demanding album for listeners, no kidding. There’s no pandering here, just a unique sensibility unafraid to take risks — and then to take even more. Maybe that’s why the 29-year old hip hop artist (formerly just Andy Bothwell from Jacksonville, Florida) isn’t already a huge star. If at times the music seems headed too far into the woods, Astronautalis drags the listener back out, like in the lines of the opening track “The River, the Woods” that began this post.

This Is Our Science is the 4th album from Astronautalis, and his first with Fake Four Inc., in what seems like a great professional match.

By the way, I haven’t seen any lyrics posted yet, so the ones I’ve got in quotations here are based on multiple listens. If anyone has corrections to them, please send them along.

I have already posted Astronautalis tour dates here. I’ve got a short review and pics of his Savannah Stopover show in March here. And a preview of that Savannah Stopover show here.