Local music: Astronautalis has landed in Minneapolis

Some indie rappers struggle to break out of the Twin Cities. Andy Bothwell worked hard to make it here.

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Astronautalis

Photo: Leslie Plesser, Special to the Star Tribune

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Between his frequent local tour stops, his upcoming record with P.O.S. and his newly released songs with Sims, Cecil Otter and Lazerbeak, Florida-bred indie-rap-rocker Astronautalis has spent a lot of time in the Twin Cities over the past two years. But it apparently wasn't enough.

"Every time I left Minneapolis, I'd be pissed I had to go," the rapper/singer recalled. "I've traveled everywhere the past few years, and that was never the case anywhere else."

After a decade now of writing about all the underground rappers who've broken out of Minnesota onto the national stage, this one is a first for me: an underground rapper already on the national stage who made Minneapolis his new home.

The real-life Andy Bothwell, 29, relocated here in June, not long after finishing a tour with Sims as his opening act. Between his affinity for old-school punk and new-era hip-hop, his DIY-driven career and the fact that he is already complaining about Metro Transit ("The buses aren't just a few minutes late, but a half-hour sometimes!"), he already seems like a local.

"He fits here because of his relentless work ethic," said Sims. "The guy has never gotten help from anyone, yet somehow he carved himself a full-time, international rap career."

Added P.O.S., "He's already part of this great collaborative vibe we have here, where he can sit down over a few whiskeys and give you feedback and input on your music without competition ever entering into the picture. Plus, he just has a great ear for all kinds of music."

Talking by phone last week from Portland, Maine -- where he recruited his backing band for the tour landing Monday at the Triple Rock -- Bothwell had equal praise for his new hometown.

"I've never seen a music scene where so many people are working so hard and are so excited about making music," he said.

Raised in Jacksonville, he went to college in Dallas and then hit the road as Astronautalis in 2003. He resettled in Seattle a few years ago as his home base, but he has pretty much been traveling the world nonstop since then, including tours of Europe and Australia last year opening for Canadian indie-rock heroines Tegan and Sara (Tegan Quinn also guests on his new album).

His first trip to Minneapolis was back in 2005 for a show at the sadly long-gone Dinkytowner Cafe: "There were only eight people there, and yet I sold about $200 in merch that night," he fondly remembered.

A vet of Ohio's famed Scribble Jam competitions (where Eyedea and Brother Ali also made their early marks), Bothwell became good friends with P.O.S. on the Warped Tour in 2004, when P.O.S. started out selling Atmosphere's T-shirts and wound up with a performance slot by tour's end. The two have frequently crossed paths ever since, and they have been sporadically working on an album together under the moniker Four Fists. And they weren't joking when they said the record is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories.

"We're in no hurry to get it done," Bothwell said, "even though everybody else wants us to hurry with it."

Upon hearing the new Astronautalis album, "This Is Our Science," that kinship with P.O.S. is apparent right away in the opening track "The River, the Woods," which carries the same fist-raised energy and punky traits as P.O.S. songs such as "Drumroll."

But the album is a lot more musically varied and thematically conceptual than just about any hip-hop record of recent memory. The dramatic, piano-laden "Measure the Globe" and the "Dimitri Mendeleev" both sound akin to one of "Science" producer John Congleton's other collaborators, Modest Mouse. Those two tracks also bookend the concept: The latter is about the scientist who invented the periodic table, while the former recounts a random meeting Bothwell had with punk veteran Kevin Seconds of 7 Seconds at a club in Germany.

"Here was this guy I idolized doing the same thing as me halfway around the world, and he didn't show any sign of being jaded by it or disenchanted," he said, explaining the album's connection between DIY punk and indie-rap artists and radical scientists like Mendeleev and Newton.

"It's sort of the same quest for discovery. All these old punk-rockers and us indie artists today are out there traveling with this desperate hope of carving out a career, with no business acumen whatsoever, and our friends and parents all think we're sort of nuts. That's how it was with those Age of Enlightenment guys, too."

As enlightened as he is by his new hometown, Bothwell plans to continue his mad quest. In fact, now he has an excuse to tour even more -- at least for four or five months out of the year.

"I sure as hell don't plan on being here a lot over the winter," he deadpanned.

Broder's new Cloak

After dabbling in electronics and a wide array of sonic landscapes in his Fog albums and other recent projects, Andrew Broder gets back to more of a straight-up, two-distorted-guitars sound in his new group the Cloak Ox. "New group" might not be an apt description, though, since the band is made up of the same ex-Fog guys he played with before the other Andrew B (Bird) swiped them for his band, with Martin Dosh on drums and Jeremy Ylvisaker on guitars, plus Mark Erickson on bass.

Broder's brood already sound well jelled and ready for blastoff on the thrilling "Prisen," the quartet's debut EP for Totally Gross National Product, which they're promoting Friday at the Loring Theater. Songs like "AllahYouAkbar" and the almost-title-track "Prison" have bleeding lo-fi guitars, jagged rhythms and wired soul-punk vocals like an unruly mix of fIREHOSE and TV on the Radio. Broder's quirky writing style still shines through, as in "My Papa," where he sings about getting lost in Burnsville. Friday's party features an appropriately wild lineup with Kill the Vultures, Tender Meat and Seawhores (10 p.m., $10-$12).

Ali's new bro

While chatting up Saturday's unprecedented Twin Cities Day of Dignity afternoon concert outside his Nasjid An-Nur mosque in north Minneapolis, Brother Ali let slide a few details about his next record. Because his usual producer Ant has been on tour with Atmosphere, Ali started crafting tracks with DJ Jake One in recent months.

"It's looking like the whole record is going to be with Jake now, because I'm really digging it," Ali said. However, Ant isn't completely out of the picture: "I still send him all the tracks, just because I at least want his feedback," he said.

Random mix

Haley Bonar and her stellar band are playing their last show of the year Saturday at the Dakota (7 p.m., $15), an "evening with" concert that will include some surprise guests. And no, Bonar is not moving to Portland, Ore., again. She's about to have a baby. ...

Also headed for some time off is Zoo Animal, whose current lineup is playing its final show Nov. 11 at Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church. Frontwoman Holly Newsom plans to carry on with the name, though. She's also heading up the new label Suntanman, putting out Matt Latterell's new album with an Oct. 13 party at the Cedar (featuring Zoo Animal). ... Roma di Luna's farewell shows in December at the Cedar have sadly been called off. The truncated RdL lineup's last show is Saturday in Luverne, Minn., with the Caravan du Nord series. ...

A boy/girl folk-pop duo in the vein of hot newcomers the Civil Wars, the Sudden Lovelys had something of a creative burst over the past year. The end result: three full-length, all-acoustic albums being released at once next week. The couple, Daniel Ferraro and Paige Prescher, show off three distinct shades on each of the colorfully titled discs, the best of which is the light, lovelorn "Red Rose in a Yellow Army." They also have fun on the more swinging "Big White Silver" and show a darker side on "Liquid Silver." Their release party is Thursday at the Ritz Theater near their home in northeast Minneapolis (7:30 p.m., $8-$10). ...

P.O.S. raved about Marijuana Deathsquads' just-wrapped 10-day recording session at Justin Vernon's studio near Eau Claire, helmed by Gayngs leader Ryan Olson . He said, "Ryan had different groups of musicians come in every day, and we just went for it. It was incredible." Five different albums will reportedly come of it. ...

The Birthday Suits are teaming up with New York's own noise-punk duo Japanther at the Kitty Cat Klub on Saturday (10 p.m.), and then the two twosomes will meet up for a few more shows on the Suits' monthlong tour starting next week. ... Hymie's Records has a full October on tap with its so-called Schlitz Kickin' Country music series, which kicks off Tuesday with the Cactus Blossoms (6:30 p.m.) and features other free shows by Mother Banjo and Jake Hyer (Oct. 9), the Ericksons (Oct. 16) and more. Free cans of Schlitz for those old enough. I think the legal age to be a Schlitz drinker is 72.

  • related content

  • Audio: "The River, The Woods," by Astronautalis

    Wednesday September 28, 2011

  • Audio: "Prison" by The Cloak Ox

    Wednesday September 28, 2011

    "Prison," by The Cloak Ox, from the CD Prisen

  • Astronautalis' "This is Our Science."

  • The Cloak Ox

  • ASTRONAUTALIS

    When: 9 p.m. Mon. 10/3

    Where: Triple Rock, 629 Cedar Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $15. 18 & older.

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