Review Summary: Punk is dead, Rap is very much alive
Astronautalis is an American Indie Hip-Hop artist, often centering his music on original ideas, vivid lyricism and juxtaposing between Indie Rock and Rap – This particular aspect has been dabbled with heavily by the artist who has spent 13 years perfecting his original style. Even from his first full length release ‘You And Yer Good Ideas’ you get a good idea of the type of music Andy Bothwell has set out to create, and despite it being his weakest album, it allowed for a good introduction to a man who prides himself on switching up his general sound on every album. Throughout his entire career there was no point in which you could say that he has repeated himself, every album seems to follow a different direction despite still staying heavily in his Indie Rock / Hip Hop hybrid roots. His 2011 album ‘This Is Our Science’ is perhaps his best album, perfecting all of his skills into what could go on to be his opus. It’s one of my favourite albums of the current decade and is a genuinely compelling album from start to finish with the inclusion of fantastic lyricism and varied back-boned instrumentation to carry the songs from one to another. That was in 2011, and here we are 5 years later. Cut The Body Loose is announced, and the only thought left within my head is “Where will he progress towards next?”
In the scheme of things, Cut The Body Loose was always going to be a disappointment within the back catalogue of Astronautalis, through fans and critics alike. He has stated before that he’s a man that doesn’t like to stick to the same sounds and consistently likes to change things up. This destroyed any chance of a natural progression from This Is Our Sciences’ fantastic hybrid nature. To back this statement, the first single released for this particular album was ‘SIKE!’ which is by far the most Hip-Hop influenced song that Andy has every released. It’s was a ballsy choice of a single to say the least, as it features an obnoxiously industrial beat throughout, which bordered on grating when I first listened to it. It’s not a particularly bad song, and it’s fun to listen to at times – It just feels a bit like an artist trying to break his way into mainstream culture, albeit in a parodying way. The song is more of a cover of Southern Gangster Hip-Hop, than it is a change of direction. To be fair to him, it’s actually done in quite a successful way as the song ends up being quite likeable, especially when accompanied with the video which develops the true care-free nature of the track, it still didn’t make me very optimistic towards how the album was going to sound.
I always find that the opening track is a good representation of the direction an album is going to explore, and on ‘Kurt Cobain’ we can see that there will be more reliance on Hip-Hop oriented beats and lyricism than there was on ‘This Is Our Science’. This theory proves to be both true and false, as this is the most Hip-Hop inspired album that Astronautalis has ever made, yet there are quite a few song that break this pattern. An example being the song ‘Kudzo’ which is a smoother number which captures your attention straight away and carries you throughout a soft haunting beat with little falter – the hook on this particular song, and on a lot of songs on the album is absolutely fantastic. The soft but mumbled vocals of Andy on ‘Kudzo’ brings out the true beauty and mystery in the song, this is a perfect contrast to the next song ‘Guard The Flame’ which is one of the heavier Indie based songs on the album as it features almost shouted vocals. This contrast within back-to-back songs is something you find a lot on the album, often having a song like ‘Forest Fire’, which is a soft and emotional number situated next to a song like ‘Attila Ambrus’, which is a 2 minute anthem with horns and a swinging jazzy western sound to boot. Somehow, the songs all seem to flow fairly well together with everything seeming to fit in place fairly well.
The previously mentioned ‘Forest Fire ‘ is one of the best songs on the album in terms of sound, but is almost certainly the best song on the album in terms of lyricism. It tells the story of two people scared to be in love and is one of the most emotional songs Astronautalis has ever put out. It’s one of the only songs on the album which show the true potential of a lyricist previously renowned for his story-telling ability. One notable problem with the lyrics on this album is the inclusion of some fairly cringey political lines. For example, ‘In The Tall Grass’ is a song including some fantastic lyrics which are all brought to a standstill when Andy raps the lines “With apologetic talk, Obama promising changes” (a line familiar to the one on 'SIKE!'), to end the song on a bitter political note that doesn’t seem to sit right.
Cut The Body Loose sounds best on repeat listens, a lot of the songs take time to familiarize and carve their way into an enjoyable listen. An example being the title track on the album which is the bleakest song on the album without a hint of rap to its name, instead it has a semi-folk style to it which originally bored me heavily but ended up being a subtle relaxing listen. I also want to take time to talk about ‘Boiled Peanuts’ which is the closest thing to a shout out track that you’ll get and is the perfect closer for an album filled with ego. It’s an ode to Andy’s hometown of Florida, an ode to those who got him where he is, and an ode to his hip hop roots. It’s a genuinely compelling song with a more personal story than anything he has discussed on earlier releases. The beautiful hook sung by featured Lizzo is also worth a mention as it turns the song into the perfect closer with an explored gospel sound. It’s full of the cockiness that you’d expect but there’s still a level of humbleness to it that only adds to the 7 minutes of brilliance. It’s Astronautalis at his best.
It takes a strong level of confidence and cockiness from an artist to place a smug looking version of themselves on the cover of two of their most recent albums. It’s that confidence that carried Andy into declaring that this upcoming album was his ‘best yet’, which is a claim that only begged to be disagreed with. For the most part, however, Cut The Body Loose is a great album filled with inconsistencies. At its worst, it remains an enjoyable listen. At its best, it makes me yearn for another Astronautalis classic. For now though, this is what we’re stuck with – an Indie Hip-Hop album which slots competently into an already varied discography. Is it his best album? No. Is it still enjoyable? Very much so