In the opening salvo of Four Fists’ long-awaited studio album, Astronautalis and P.O.S., stalwarts of the more literary corners of indie hip-hop, join their distinctive voices and call out for something to happen in this dazed world of ours: “I want a riot, white riot riot riot of my own / I want a riot, white riot riot right in front of my home…”
It’s a central theme to much of the album, this feeling of pure longing to make one’s mark on the world. There are questions of legacy at hand. Questions of what’s come before and what lies ahead of us all, the grand march through life.
The two artists hail from the unexpectedly diverse and robust Minneapolis hip-hop scene, one of those wonderful geographic treasures that deliver a bounty of talent and cross-pollenated projects to broader and less fortunately located audiences. Astronautalis (Andy Bothwell) and P.O.S. (Stefon Alexander) have been artistic comrades since 2004, and it's only through the simple matter of life — of the countless vicissitudes of time — that the debut album has remained so long in the works. At any rate, the goods have arrived. (The collaboration’s name comes from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about learning from mistakes and, inevitably, humility.)
“Our first impulse was, man, we have to work together,” Bothwell recalls via phone when asked about the two artists’ early days. The group performs with Vigatron and Angel Davanport at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Beachland Ballroom.
It was back then, as aspirations brought Astronautalis and P.O.S. to craft inventive careers in hip-hop, that the roots of Four Fists took hold.
“It’s one of those things that you just know when you start working with somebody. It either happens or it doesn’t, and oftentimes you know even before you start working. That’s one of the things that sort of compels you. … It's always just been easy with he and I,” Bothwell says. “I think what it really comes down to that he and I sort of fill a void in each other's work really well, which pushes each other to make better work.”
blasts off from the get-go with opening cut “Nobody's Biz,” and, honestly, it never lets up. This is a visceral album, even in its more light-hearted moments. Astronautalis and P.O.S., after all, have always flashed a fine sense of humor in their work. There are some great moments in the lyric book, especially when the guys blend contemporary nonsense about how “people love having human arguments with fucking bots” with more introspective thoughts on how life has changed us all. Their shared pasts coming up in Minneapolis are on full display; this album harkens back to the best of what made these two artists so enticing in the first place.
Fellow Minneapolis denizen Sims joins the duo on “Annihilation” and “Fjortis,” the former being an utterly cataclysmic eruption of sound, where the head-banging production of the album is felt with incredible force, and the latter a more laid-back diary entry on the how very close we remain to our dumber, freer, youthful selves.
But it’s hard not to shake the intensity through. Again, in “Annihilation,” a verse from P.O.S. tumbles maniacally into a volcanic eruption of vocals. The effect is jolting.
And that’s the thing: 6666 minces neither word nor emotion. It’s a bootstraps album, meant clinically for these sometimes-apocalyptic times in America.
Throughout it all, producer Subp Yao's kaleidoscopic presence is felt deeply. This is probably the clearest departure point from both Astronautalis and P.O.S.’s previous solo work. The groovy Dutch producer has been making name, and his own recent EP, Backwitda, revels in that fascinating space between danceable and mind-boggling. Bothwell found his remix work and became enthralled with his ability to reinvent other artists’ music.
“He was able to breathe new life into songs; he was clearly thinking about music in a way that other people weren’t thinking about music,” Bothwell says. “He and I started talking about working on music together, and he started sending me some beats.”
Bothwell and Alexander went up to a cabin in the woods with producer Lazerbeak and knocked out six songs in three days: rapid-fire recording, including the free-wheeling “Sid Vishis.” It was there that Bothwell played Subp Yao’s remixes and began getting the guys onboard with bringing him onto the Four Fists album. “Both of them were just so amazed.” The deal was done.
seems, at its heart, to be something of a call for action — one communicated through and embellished by Subp’s multi-faceted touch.
While working together from their separate and circuitous paths through life, indeed, Astronautalis and P.O.S. cannot stray far from the power of storytelling. And they cannot, in the end, escape that need to share and to create. Here we are. The songs are here, and we are sharing in the power of active creativity.
The central track is “Joe Strummr,” where lyrics examine the shifting generational attitudes toward the social ills around them. “Joe Strummer's been dead for too damn long, and now we’re all just numb to what they’ve done…” Bothwell sings. “They're rioting in Virginia / We watched it from our phones / And changed our Facebook pictures / To congratulate ourselves…”
“Both [Stefon] and I are slowly getting really close to the halfway point of an average adult male life, and now you started looking forward—back to the last half and forward to the future half,” Bothwell says. “This record really sort of straddles that point, and it was very much taken into consideration when we sequenced the songs. The first half are very much songs that feel like our youth in a lot of ways; they’re very aggressive, they’re very direct ‘youth anthems.’ There’s a lot of call and response. There’s a lot of yelling.
“And then there’s a sort of pivot point on the song ‘Joe Strummr,’ where things change and the record sort of just becomes more adult in a lot of ways. The themes start to shift, and it becomes more about our own lives and our lives going forward and our goals.”
The songwriting places the artists in a surreal moment in history—and in their lives. This is the sound of them taking stock, in many ways, of what’s happened. Between their 2004 meeting and the release of this album, P.O.S. had another kid—and a kidney transplant. Astronautalis got married, and his wife moved to the States from Germany. The degree of upheaval only increases as we grow up; why shouldn’t we expect the same from these societal shifts?
Four Fists with Vigatron and Angel Davanport, 8 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 14, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $15-18, beachlandballroom.com.