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ASTRO MAN
Orlando's adopted son goes west

Astronautalis: Pomegranate

Desc:CD REVIEW: ARTIST: Astronautalis
Label:Eyeball
Format:Album
Media:CD
Genre:Recording

Until recently, Florida was the launch pad for alt-rap prodigy Astronautalis. Before moving to Seattle, the Jacksonville native was a longtime protégé of Orlando imprint Fighting Records. Now, like Rhode Islander Sage Francis to L.A.’s Epitaph, Astronautalis is the first rapper signed to New Jersey indie label Eyeball Records, and he’s kicking down walls on the national stage.

He spent years on the battle circuit and it shows in his chiseled freestyle flow, but his musical vision is anything but traditional rap. Over his career, it’s come into focus that his sights are set far beyond the bounds of conventional hip-hop, even beyond typical backpacker fare. And Pomegranate is the most cogent crystallization of Astronautalis’ endeavors yet.

The album is awash in the sort of mood only a true storyteller can conjure. Granting equal time to both his rapping and surprisingly realized folk singing, he capitalizes on the expressive power unique to each, and the music gives it full body. Rather than mere backdrop, the complex sonic fabric here is a key element in accomplishing the record’s rich and often heavy emotionality. Besides the obligatory beats, the arsenal embraces piano, strings, horns and even chirping birds (“An Episode of Sparrows”). Though the rap perspective is clear, Pomegranate is an indie record at heart.

The dramatic tension is established immediately on opening track “The Wondersmith and His Sons,” with its insistent piano and guitars writhing above a shuffling breakbeat. Other poignant heights come with the big, woozy swamp-stomp of “Secrets of the Undersea Bell” and the foreboding, nervy edge of “The Case of William Smith.” But the most triumphant union of Astronautalis’ myriad ambitions is the skyward-soaring “Trouble Hunters.”

In his moment of high visibility, Astronautalis has stepped up and delivered an accomplished record. Pomegranate is transformative, transfixing, transcendental. Look out, Buck 65.

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