By Rob O’Donnell
The genre of Astronautalis’ fourth album “This Is Our Science” is hard to describe. He’s a rapper, but sings his choruses with a voice as gravelly as Tom Waits. With a blend of acoustic folk, heavy punk bass riffs, hard snare drums, melodic piano and electronic beats, the music gets inside your head. Just like the name suggests, the album has an intellectual theme: science. Songs dedicated to Dmitri Mendeleev, the inventor of the Periodic Table of Elements, and Thomas Jefferson’s scientific work dominate the album.
As an English major, I miss a good amount of the references, but that’s the brilliant part about Astronautalis. He’s singing about obscure intellectual topics, but the songs aren’t really about the science. He makes it personal, connecting those references to his life and the sacrifices of pursuing what he loves. It’s a message that we can all relate to in some way, especially in college when we’re trying to decide what to do with the rest of our lives. In his album, he struggles to make a living and has to be on the road constantly to support himself, but he loves every second of it.
Although he references little-known Greek mythology, the message is clear: if you’re not living for what you love, you’re turning your life into a prison. Long, winding stories and carefully researched facts drive this straightforward principle home to the listener. In that way, along with his unusual singing voice, he reminds me of the great folk musicians like early Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, who perfected the art of ballads.
The music is powerful and makes the lyrics even more potent and hard-hitting. As his first album with a backing band, the emphasis is more on the melodies than in his previous works. His vocal delivery is fiery and intense, especially on songs like “Holy Water,” but soft and gentle at times like on “Lift The Curse.” The choruses are stirring, usually with incredible drums and pianos mixed with his raspy voice in a catchy melody. This album is much more polished than his others, but still captures his passion and raw emotion.
No matter what kind of music you’re into, I can guarantee you’ll find something to love in this album. As for the genre, just call it whatever you want.