Astronautalis The Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters

If The Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters serves as your introduction to Astronautalis, it may be hard to believe he initially made a name for himself as a freestyle rapper. Maybe because the record is a varied hodgepodge of American music styles that veers more closely to indie than "undie,” or maybe because when Astronautalis speeds up he sounds remarkably like Butthole Surfers front-man Gibby Haynes in "Pepper” mode. That’s not a knock, not exactly; the album’s slow, off-handed beauty is often reminiscent of hazy, sun-baked ’90s Modest Mouse without the spastic, caustic freak-outs, but you’ll certainly spot a number of other noble influences along the way (Silver Jews and the Postal Service, to name a couple). The album was apparently intended as a four-part narrative on adolescence (not a coherent storyline, but rather a collage) and it succeeds. Astronautalis’ imagery is evocative enough that the album effectively feels like a stack of photographs (a metaphor reflected in the layout of the liner notes). But that brings us back to the rapping. Not that the Florida-native embarrasses himself, but sometimes his songs seem much better-suited to singing than rhyming. It’s an uncomfortable hybrid that lends Astronautalis a distinctive style, but the songs here show he could be on his way to developing something more important: a distinctive voice. (Crush Entertainment/Recordhead)