What is Jason Feathers, and what does it sound like?

Categories: CD Review
The cover of Jason Feathers' De Oro.

A collaborative project featuring Justin Vernon, Astronautalis, S. Carey, and Ryan Olson was teased back in 2012 during its creative stages. It recently arrived in gilded Ed Hardy font as De Oro, the debut record under the name Jason Feathers. 

The gathering of musicians comes with a string of alter-egos -- Creflo a.k.a. Jason Feathers (Astronautalis), Ephasis (Vernon), Toothpick (Carey), and _______ (Olson) -- and embellished back stories. Each player gets his own invented persona, which serves to represent the sounds reflected on the record. "OK, this ain't no college album, playboy," Creflo says at one point. "This is a professional album."

This week, De Oro -- which means "gold" in Spanish -- was made available as a streamable preview via Pitchfork. Here are our initial thoughts.

See also:
The secret Justin Vernon and Astronautalis project has emerged

Astronautalis as Creflo ("a red-chested god-bassed Southern rapper in a fancy white suit," according to the press release) occupies the cover of the album De Oro. His face is hidden in shadows with only gold grills and chains in focus in such a way that his skin color is a mystery.

There's not a lot present in the raps that reflect what one usually thinks of upon hearing the term "Southern rapper," other than perhaps the pitched-down vocals. The lyrics are far more backwater bluesman than Bun B. There are plenty of signifiers throughout in the images referenced -- gold mines, creeks, Old Bay seasoning, etc. -- but in keeping with Astro's solo work, it pulls far more from literary than hip-hop tropes in its writing.

Lines like "God willing and the creek don't rise" and "Wash the Earth and start anew" are not standard rap fare, and the Southern-ness is far more of the knock-down, drag-out then draped-up and dripped-out variety. And much like his solo work, the Jason Feathers project works better if you don't think of it as rap, or any genre in particular for that matter.

Astronautalis warned this would not be an Astronautalis record, a Bon Iver record, or even a combination of both; it's an experimental amalgam of ideas that sounds like a patchwork of concepts, and whether the ideas land depends on the listener's patience with songs that are structurally loose and somewhat choppy.

The signature styles of everyone involved are evident even as the costumes change, but Ryan Olson's directorial touch is especially so. The milieu is wholly different, but De Oro has similar movement to it as other Olson projects, particularly Gayngs' Related and Marijuana Deathsquads' Tamper.Disable.Destroy.

Those records were tightly confined collections of concepts culled from multiple sources, and tended to jump between them somewhat chaotically with enough production control to still be considered songs. De Oro might've been a more easily digestible record had it been simply Astronautalis raps and Bon Iver hooks; instead it's a hodgepodge of picked-apart freestyles, twangy guitar licks, pounding drum parts, and melodic reverberated singing.

It mostly works considering how cobbled together it seems, but Olson is the master cobbler. The driving sound of "Young as Fuck" and "Canary in a Gold Mine" are the best examples of what the mixture of the four distinct approaches sound like in tandem, though "Sacred Math" and "Cyclone" are probably the album's best songs. These are the most stripped-down of the bunch, and the album's cinematic moodiness is used to its best effect.

"Sacred Math" begins with a menacing rundown of a series of spring breaks past, specifically referencing Spring Breakers at one point to incorporate the film's sinister aura. The seedy bar jukebox vibe and gospel elements work better as the tone gets more ambient and eerie.

Next: The fabricated back story...

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