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Road songs

Astronautalis sets aside the history books on hit-and-miss new album




This is Our Science
(Fake Four)

Nomadic musician Andy Bothwell, aka Astronautalis, has spent the last few years since his majestic third album, Pomegranate, traveling the globe on tour and relocating yet again from Washington to Minnesota – a good portion of his loyal fan base was initially built around Jacksonville and Orlando – and that existence has clearly left its mark on his newest effort, This is Our Science. From the growling opening salvo, “The River, The Woods,” with its talk of compass navigation, mysterious landscapes and finding the way back home, to fleeting nights of passion (“Measure the Globe”) and “gazing skyward at the sun” (“Holy Water”), Science finds Astronautalis physically adrift yet standing on firmer musical ground than ever before.

On the album, that leads to moments of pure, post-rap bliss: Aided by producer John Congleton (Modest Mouse), Bothwell employs a pulsating undertone to match his downed-power-line delivery. He’s never sounded crisper than on “Thomas Jefferson,” a classic-Astro scorcher, or as impassioned as on the singalong-begging “Dimitri Mendeleev.” Even the cameos are welcome additions: Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara provides a lovely contrast to Bothwell’s ever-gravelly delivery on “Contrails,” while Radical Face and members of Midlake and the Riverboat Gamblers contribute gamely.

However, Astronautalis’ ambition gets the best of him more often here than on previous efforts. Science suffers from a surfeit of introspective ballads (“Measure the Globe,” “Midday Moon,” “Secrets On Our Lips,” “Lift the Curse”), a style that’s strangely ill-fitting on such a gifted storyteller.

Still, while there’s nothing here that reaches the skyscraping brilliance of Pomegranate, Bothwell’s literary flow and captivatingly restless instrumentation makes This is Our Science a head-nodding, if uneven, travelogue.