Astronautalis is little bit country and a little bit rap ‘n’ roll on the proper release of his debut, You and Yer Good Ideas, an album that primarily sits in the same subgenre of indie-hip-hop-nerd-rock occupied by Why? and Buck 65 releases. Still, he balances the genres that he dabbles in better than his peers. You and Yer Good Ideas is a moody, humorous and meandering work of weird science.
There is a nervous energy on opener “Gaston Ave.,” which features uneasy interplay between an acoustic guitar, a xylophone and some samples, all set to a rim-shot-heavy rhythm and what I suspect is a loop of vinyl noise thrown in the mix for some virtual authenticity. On this song, Astronautalis raps in a voice and style that’s similar to Gibby Haynes’s on those major-label-era Butthole Surfers ballads we hate to love. A vocal sample of Janis Ian’s “The Come On” is the only part of the music that sounds like a rap song. That’s the kind of record we’re dealing with here: the least hip-hop parts sound the most hip-hop. Skip to the third song, “Oceanwalk,” where the delivery sounds like Rancid’s Tim Armstrong in its raspy glory. It may sound “un-rap,” but it comes off as a genre-bending plea for unity between the bipolar ends of the urban music spectrum.
The record’s most remarkable song is “Somethin’ for the Kids,” which may be the closest Astro comes to achieving his goal of being “the Van Morrison of this rap shit.” The narrator here is a modern-day folk hero who spins yarns about eating grapes with Fat Joe in an “industrial-strength delivery van” and eating doughnuts with Tupac, who thinks that “twelve is too much, half a dozen wastes our time.” Through the everyday conversation constructed in this song, Astro bridges gap between the markedly different worlds of mainstream and indie rap. This is a major accomplishment in a world where the rift between the two is so deep that neither faction seems to take the other seriously. Astronautalis’s participation in both the Warped Tour and Scribble Jam attests to this common ground found over the course of this record. The hocus pocus is comparable to Blondie’s “Rapture.”
There are, of course, similarities between You and Yer Good Ideas and other established indie-rap acts, but where the art-rap set fails is where Astronautalis triumphs. Sometimes, like on “Hurricane Isabel” and “People Often Tell Me I’m Good at What I Do,” verses sound curiously like Buck 65‘s in delivery and style. But where Buck relies on that one Tom Waits-inspired voice through most of his discography, Astronautalis uses it as one of his many voices. “Tightrope,” for example, sees Astronautalis flexing his Sole-inspired voice, and “I’m Never Right” sounds like a duet between Built to Spill‘s Doug Martsch and Sole over a chopped and screwed Dabrye beat. In this case, Martsch is played by Astronautalis, Sole by Isaiah (one of two guest emcees on the record), and Dabrye by Sonny Moments, in one of the record’s few non-Astronautalis-produced tracks.
You and Yer Good Ideas should be embraced by a healthy cross-section of music fans, and I hope future efforts continue to explore the uncharted gray area between the worlds Astronautalis inhabits.
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