Justin Vernon is a man of many personas. A glance at his Wikipedia page reveals that the singer-songwriter has been involved in 12 different musical ventures. The Jason Feathers project De Ora, a collaboration with Minneapolis based hip-hop artist Astronautilus, is his latest. The album is assertive harmonically, but it lacks personality due to the fact that its narrative—a ridiculous pastiche of hip–hop lyricism—detracts from the rest of the music, leaving the listener unsatisfied.
Soaring Jack White–esque guitar riffs and 808s-era Kanye West sounds—the latter likely inspired by Vernon’s former work with the rapper—permeate the album, giving it a confident and energetic sound. The album’s weak spot, however, is Astronautilus’ portrayal of a shady drug lord. He pitches down his voice to a near-comical tone in the act, which, combined with his unpersuasive lyrics, leaves his credibility hanging by a thread. The lyrics feel inauthentic for the rapper; he’s rarely contemplative and is instead prone to lame braggadocio, such as his boast on “Gold Standard” about “following your girl home from T.J. Maxx” in order to prove that he is the boss. Many rappers often put on acts in their performances, but the ones who do it successfully go about it with genuine charisma and delivery, which Astronautilus does not.
The album does have its moments, such as the catchy hook on “Young as Fuck,” and the points in the album where Vernon proves he still has a knack for genuine loverboy lamentation (see his verse in “Cyclone”). In fact, Vernon holds his own on the album, but makes no tangible connection with his collaborator, and vice versa, which is the project’s predicament. If the pair plan to make more music together, Astronautilus must rap as sincerely as Vernon croons.