Local Current Blog

What will Justin Vernon and Astronautalis’s new project sound like?

If you follow Astronautalis or Justin Vernon on Twitter, then you’ve likely seen mentions of a new project that they’ve been furiously assembling at Vernon’s April Base studio with the help of producer Ryan Olson and Bon Iver’s drummer (and a talented songwriter in his own right) S. Carey.

The first word of the new endeavor came just this past Wednesday, when Vernon tweeted, “Well, started a new band with @scareymusic and @arsononly last night. Letting @astronautalis know that he’s in it now too.” Over the next few days the participants continued leaking tweets and photos about the project as they worked, and today Astronautalis has revealed that the recording for the new record has been completed and that we should hear the fruits of their labor soon.

But what will it sound like?

Well, it’s certainly not the first time Vernon has been involved in collaborative projects; during his last lull in Bon Iver activity, he released a one-off recording with buzzy electro artist James Blake. That project essentially sounded like a mash-up of the two artist’s sounds, and the sum of their parts seemed to add up to much less than what each is capable of doing on their own.

Just this year, we also heard Vernon’s collaboration with Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne, which is being released as part of an all-star Lips disc next weekend for Record Store Day. But similar to the Blake song, it sounded like a haphazard blend of unending psych whirs and left much to be desired.

But Ryan Olson has a track record with creating exactly these sorts of projects. In fact, Olson’s greatest talent as an artist might be his curatorial powers. Much like Prince arranged musicians into one-off groups during his most prolific and celebrated run in the mid-’80s (spawning The Family, The Time, The Revolution, et al), Olson takes regional musicians from disparate genres and backgrounds and combines them to stunning effect.

The album Olson produced under the Gayngs moniker, Relayted, is considered his greatest masterpiece to date, but that same spirit of reinvention and discovery runs rampant on the Polica album he produced with singer Channy Leaneagh this past year. That album not only helped the band uncover a new sound, but the process of making Give You the Ghost and then touring behind it completely transformed Leaneagh as a performer, thanks in no small part to Olson’s influence.

Olson’s other current project, Marijuana Deathsquads, also calls on a crew of constantly revolving special guests, though their core sound is significantly harsher and less melodic than Gayngs or Polica. Still, his ear for rhythm and arrangement is on display amidst a wall of shrieking noise.

For this new project, Astronautalis says he freestyled verses over an eight-hour period to give Olson plenty to work with, and the album will likely be constructed by tearing apart the recording sessions and gluing them back together in new formations. Astronautalis is already more than capable of crafting lines of sharp imagery and pulling the listener along with compelling and nuanced narratives (sample some of his freestyling in this session he did recently for the Local Show), so the thought of his work being chopped and screwed over the creeping vocals of Vernon and Carey is definitely appealing. Add in a little of that signature polyrhythmic, alien murmuring Ryan Olson sound, and it could result in an entirely new and thrilling din — or not. Such is the allure of these kinds of projects.

From the sounds of things, we won’t have to wait long to find out, either. “Ryan’s goal is for it to be made faster than the Polica record, and that was made in just a few weeks,” Astronautalis told Gimme Noise today. Naturally, we’ll let you know as soon as something surfaces.