Asphalt Astronaut makes a more intimate album by removing herself

The only person you truly have is yourself, says local musician Jessica Tanner ahead of the second album under her Asphalt Astronaut moniker. The new album Andromeda certainly embodies this realization, with its lonely and peaceful songs. But to complement this, Tanner has built an enveloping world of characters and landscapes to prove one’s self is enough, even in darkness.

Tanner is from Tucson, and attended the University of Arizona. While the songs on her debut album Antares dealt more overtly with school, relationships, and even scenes from Fourth Avenue, this new album jumps everywhere from mythology to space to Gone With the Wind—all as a way of exploring the self. This is even reflected on the album covers; the debut features Tanner, while Andromeda features another woman—eyes fittingly scribbled out. 

But the greatest change is in the music itself. While Tanner’s previous music is decent-if-simple indie folk, Andromeda lays on the atmosphere, blending ambient and pop music into a late-night confessional. She says this change happened in most part from her exploring production techniques, layering, mastering—and simply buying better music software. 

“My first album, I just wanted to make something and get it out there. So everything I was using was either free or very cheap, and lost some of the sound quality,” Tanner said. “The folksy elements were more a result of what I could do with what I had available. Because the way I see it, folk is very accessible to make. You might only need a guitar or banjo, have a story you want to tell, and there you go: it’s folk… But with this, I started having more fun with the ambient side of music.”

The album picks up where her debut left off, a soft and lonely sound with sparse piano and Tanner singing in a near-whisper. The opening song is also more overtly autobiographical, much like her debut. However, the second song, “Automaton,” moves away from this in both subject and style. It opens with electronic drums, quiet arpeggiated synthesizers, and multiple vocal tracks interlacing with each other. Of course, the lyrics fall mostly in-line with Asphalt Astronaut’s melancholy self-reflection—but they also work as an introduction to the subtle themes of fantasy and folklore throughout Andromeda

“My intent wasn’t to try to get away from the first album, I just had all these tools that I didn’t have before,” Tanner said. “With all these ambient and spacey songs, I think it would be weird to tell a story that was simplistic, or just about a boy and a girl.” 

Despite this, she admits it is mostly a break-up album. But that story is told through eclectic instrumentals and mysterious imagery: music boxes, frostbite, shapeshifters and the night sky. 

The song “Gin + Tonic” is built on waltz-time with an almost carnival-sounding instrumental, but the whole thing is still so hushed and delicate that it’s more reminiscent of the memories of joy than the party itself the title would imply. There are even little laughs submerged in the mix. 

“On this album, I’m most proud of how this follows a narrative. But I didn’t want it to be super on-the-nose,” Tanner said. “It starts and ends with two different versions of the same track. The first one is more polished and sweeping and dramatic. But it ends with a more bare-bones and personal version of it. But in both instances the question is the same: You’ve done everything you’re supposed to do for other people, but at the end of the day, what of it was for you?”

This question is also found in the album’s title, referring to the mythological Greek princess Andromeda who is chained to a rock and destined to be eaten by a sea monster after her mother boasts of her beauty. Ultimately, the princess is saved, but not by her own doing. 

“Throughout that story, at least as I interpreted it, she never had advocacy for herself,” Tanner said. “It was her parents who messed up, and it made the gods mad, and then a sea monster tries to get her, so Perseus saves the day, and now she belongs to him. But what does she want in the first place?”

Tanner says these questions and references relate to a kind of guilt of prioritizing yourself, entrenched in self-doubt and unhealthy relationships. The general mood of Andromeda fits these, as it is a somber and reclusive album. But the scale and mystery of the songs hint that there’s ample room to grow. 

“Maybe it is OK to be selfish sometimes, because at the end of the day, the only person who will be there with you 24/7 is yourself,” Tanner said. “But the question still remains, what is it that you want?”  

For more information, visit asphaltastronaut.com or listen on Bandcamp, Spotify or Apple Music.

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