This one was really interesting to me. I first met Andy (Astronautalis) in 2004 or so. He was on tour with my homie Jacques, and they were playing a show at a random venue in Orlando. From what I’d heard Andy was badass freestyler. He definitely was—and is—but aside from the “Lookin Ass Kittie” video, I had never been all too into his recorded material. But, with this record I feel like Astronautalis is not only in a new space for himself, but he’s also offering a new space for the audience. These songs are, as a friend observed, somewhat impersonal confessionals. And when I talked to Andy about the record it was one of the first things he brought up.
“These are songs for other people to sing also.” This record is in no way a departure form anything that Astronautalis has done in the past, but it’s a purposeful change in direction. There’s a distinct difference between making confessional songs imbued with emotion which captivate a listener, and making captivating emotional songs for the listener to imbue with whatever it is they’re feeling. The former is what Andy has done in the past, and the latter is what’s happening here. As an artist these kinds of moves fascinate me, because they’re the kinds of things that only the artists are thinking about. They are very subtle distinctions that completely change the creative process, and the functional outcome, but which still come out looking and feeling relatively similar. It’s something like the difference between a Toyota Camry and Lexus ES. The frame, and the car as tool are the same, but the user interface is completely different.
“This was really about accepting who I’ve become, and instead of trying to compensate for it, indulging it, and seeing how far it actually goes.” Andy has been touring for something like 8 years. “I’ve accepted the fact that because I live this life I don’t necessarily get to have a house, and all the normal stuff that defines people. I’m in a town for a night and then gone.” Instead of being Andy creating art as Astronautalis, this is much like the transformation I described in Das Racist’s Relax. This record is the moment when the life that Astronautalis has created becomes who Andy is, and the feedback loop closes. Instead of being a man compensating for the ways that making art defiles his life, he is an artist fully manifesting his actions and becoming who he will be by abandoning who he was.
The record is brilliantly engineered, and I would be remiss to write this review and skip over speaking about the engineering. It reminds me of High Violet, and John Congleton’s work recording, producing, engineering, and mixing is deserving of nothing less than the utmost praise. I really can’t emphasize the incredible craftsmanship that it took to make this record sound like it does. But, the way it sounds is a strength beyond just the engineering because the concept behind the songs also sets this album apart. I’ve been combing through all of the recorded hip hop I can find since the late 90’s. I’ve heard tons of records, and—no hyperbole—I’ve never heard a record quite like this. I’ve heard Andy, and other people rap similarly, but the instrumentation and engineering here have created a largely unprecedented element. There is a dynamism here that is mostly foreign to hip hop. And from the alternate perspective, there is a sense of immediacy here that simply doesn’t exist in backpack rap.
I think this may be an easy record to skip over, but it’s also a very easy record to get entirely taken by. Certainly, after talking to Andy, I have a different feeling about the record. But even without talking to him I knew that he was creating familiar ballads that had to be rapped instead of sung. Perhaps this record is more significant than I first realized considering that statement though. We know how to sing along to ballads, but that is something from a previous generation, it isn’t from our time. And we know how to rap along to anthemic bangers, but I don’t think we’ve ever really had these kinds of ballads to rap along to. So bravo to you sir, an effort well planned and executed.