Panzerpappa: Astromalist
  • Production
  • Composition
  • Originality
  • Musicianship
  • Structure FTW

Last year saw the release of Panzerpappa’s 5th studio album Astromalist. Personally, I’ve always had a hard time getting into the RIO scene. I’ve always respected it, usually been impressed by it, really caught by surprise by the occasional album, but also been unable to really get it. I remember several years ago when fellow progulator Kyler Stoneman had me over one night, and showed me this really interesting vocal solo on The Art Bears’ track Freedom. I just remember thinking, “Well, this is interesting, if not entirely enjoyable,” and then I promptly forgot about it. Last summer we all watched the RIO documentary Romantic Warriors II. I enjoyed it. I learned a ton. I even liked a decent portion of the music, but I was still convinced it just wasn’t my bag.

So, when Panzerpappa sent me their CD, I was prepared to send it in turn to other members of this staff who just lose their load over RIO. I took a listen on the off chance that I liked it, and let me tell you, I was taken completely by surprise. This album does a lot of things right by me, and so I kept it for myself. Then, I lost it, and forgot about it. Between all the craziness in my life, it slipped through the cracks for a few months until I cleaned out my office, and found a small stack of CD’s I had not yet put on my shelf.

One thing I do usually love about all RIO is the use of keyboard percussion. Being a percussionist myself, and having a not small marimba fetish, it stirs my soul, and sometimes my trousers, a bit when I hear them. Astromalist has its fair share, as well as a crazy amount of other instruments. Granted it is definitely not the craziest amongst other RIO, both in amount and strangeness, but I thought the instrumentation was well thought out and very complimentary to the songwriting. I didn’t feel like they threw anything in the album just for the hell of it. Everything had a purpose; whether to build a line or create a certain mood, nothing here felt wasted, flamboyant, or experimental. Did that turn any RIO fans off? I hope not.

This brings me to my next point, and my greatest praise for this album: the songwriting. Every song has a very obvious motif, whether rhythmic, melodic, or both as in most cases, that slowly gets built on during the length of the  song, usually leading to a very satisfying climax. This means the songs are fairly short with an average of 5 minutes, but honestly, for me, it worked brilliantly. Some of them even made me laugh. The third track, Femtende Marsj sounds like bizarro Dave Brubeck had a really, really bad trip before he wrote Blue Rondo a la Turk, and the 5th track felt like Tool decided that instead of wearing “The Grudge like a crown of negativity”, they would wear it like a belt buckle of eccentricity. I loved that this album was the farthest thing from the sometimes alienating pretentious feel I get from a lot of RIO, instead feeling relaxed and just fun. Along with the structured feel of the album, the atonality of the melodies, or the variations thereon, really just made this album a home run in my book. I love me some atonality, and when it’s used like this, to build a simple melody into a huge grotesque mass of dissonance and texture, I just can’t get enough.

So, my verdict? Hard to say really. I love this album, as you can see by the rating I give it. But, I’m not sure huge fans of some of the more “out there” RIO will love it the same way I did. I also don’t care. 4 1/2 stars to this incredibly well thought out album, and kudos to all the members for making a RIO album that, for the first time, I can say that I love.