Lyrical gunslinger Bruce Pandolfo, who records and performs under the moniker AllOne, has premiered the animated music video for his mesmerizing tale of two cities “Don’t We? (feat. Brian Kjellgren of Sargasm).”
AllOne conjures two characters’ dreamscapes with his unique blend of rapid-fire delivery and knack for scene-setting storytelling. Bri Martinsen, whose animation illustrates these two worlds, transports a man to a sunny countryside, complete with a vividly detailed general store. AllOne’s lyrics awaken all the scenes as the clerk “gently growls orders at ransacking grandkids,” his hair visibly “less pepper than salt” atop a mind saturated with “sepia-toned tales” of years gone by. With musty air and candy jars dusty to the touch, the scene is one of pure beauty in the enticed yet wandering mind of a city cabbie, slouching behind the wheel day after day in the noisy city traffic.
After a chorus graciously sung by Sargasm’s Brian Kjellgren, the cabby’s backroad fantasy is another man’s reality. Switching perspective, the underground star raps poetic about bustling taxis and tourists clogging the sidewalks, bumping shoulders with stars of page and screen. Street artists, novelists, jazz musicians, comedians all under “a billion blinding Iron Giant eyes” pouring through “modern monoliths that model Metropolis.” The man confined to the rural dreamscape of an urbanite longs to live among the racoon-eyed “sardonic sardined populace” of his counterpart’s city.
“‘Don’t We?’ is a grass is always greener tale,” Pandolfo said. “The power of daydreaming and how there’s always someone out there craving the thing you’re bored with or longing to escape. The writing was an opportunity to capture place in painting settings and images, almost a series of sketches. I loved the idea of the music representing the bucolic imagery as well as the metropolitan landscape. Conscious Robot did an incredible job, this was one of few songs on the album where the direction started with me and having a song written and structured already and giving them the direction to compose around it. The chorus is sung by my friend Brian Kjellgren of the Long Island metal band Sargasm.”
Emotionauts is AllOne’s eighth album overall, quenching fans’ thirst after a five-year wait for a full-length follow-up to 2016’s I’ve Been Thinking… But for the artist and his fans alike, the album is worth the wait. AllOne tackles the struggles of codependence, unrequited love, suicidal depression and ADHD. He expresses the pain of feeling like an outsider, leans into the cripilling uncertainty of youth that lingers into adulthood, and steps back to explore the vastness of the universe.
The Long Island-based rapper, slam poet and songwriter Bruce Pandolfo spent countless hours studying the craft of MCing, and the time had come to leap, whether the rip cord works or not. But this was no project born of carelessness. Pandolfo is nothing if not meticulous about the placement of every syllable in his dense, rapid-fire rhymes. He understands that there comes a time when, creatively speaking, you just have to risk falling on your face.
“I still feel like I can fall on my face with it,” he chuckled. “But at this point I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable without that level of uncertainty. There’s such a great spark of creativity in all that tension that comes with it.”
His career was born out of such a leap into uncertainty. A sophomore in high school, Pandolfo took his notebook down to a coffeehouse, and surrounded by seasoned poets who were all in their sixties, he took his place at the mic and gave it a go. He’s never looked back since.
An avid reader since childhood whose father was a rock guitarist, Pandolfo has nevertheless continued to step into unfamiliar arenas: hip hop, slam poetry, jamming with other musicians and (most recently) production and arrangement were all somewhat foreign territory for him when he discovered them, but he’s jumped in with both feet at every stage. He has also, over a span of 8 albums and 4 EPs broadened the DIY concept so that it no longer stops with the artist. Part of the AllOne mision is for the listener to feel encouraged to go out there and do it themselves.
Pandolfo’s musical journey begins as a teenager immersed in the cerebral end of the punk pool:
“My mother,” he explained, “encouraged reading so strongly that I still do it voraciously now. So my life has always been defined by words. Even the music I was drawn to pre-hip hop was very lyric-heavy bands like Bad Religion. I was always fascinated by how lyrical composition could completely transmogrify a genre. You take a piece of music that you might immediately have all these assumptions about because it’s easy to identify within certain genre parameters, but then you do something more ingenuitive with the words, and then you’ve changed that piece of music almost on an alchemical level. So when I got into rap music, I was naturally magnetized to people who were doing it on such an articulate level that I couldn’t help but be blown away by and fall in love with the genius of it.”
It was fortuitous, then — it actually altered Pandolfo’s destiny — that Epitaph Records began featuring cutting-edge hip hop artists like Sage Francis, Atmosphere and Eyedea & Abilities on its annual Punk-O-Rama compilations in the early 2000s. Pandolfo’s path was set. From there, he dove into slam poetry, which then led to the collaborations with Long Island musicians documented on AllOne’s 2010 debut Coal Aberrations. Since then, he has worked with a variety of different producers and instrumentalists, tending to organize each release according to a unifying theme, so that subject matter and musical presentation contrast significantly from release to release. Still, even when he delved into the blood-curdling world of true crime on his 2017 Dusty Dossiers EP, the common thread has always been Pandolfo’s irresistible attraction to being a constructive force. Even when he’s writing from, say, a murderer’s perspective, the goal is to inspire and motivate (no surprise from an artist who has the words “keep pushing” tattooed on one forearm and “pull-through” on the other).
It’s clear throughout Emotionauts that Pandolfo has upped his lyrical prowess to deliver his most fully-realized work to date. He wastes no time expressing the innermost struggles that pain him on opener “Thought Ballon Aeronaut,” then turns to offer aid to fellow sufferers of anxiety and suicidal depression, urging them to seek community in niche spaces on “Left Field Day.” Whether pondering the ever-complicated world of love on “Heart Syncing” or delivering gut-wrenching and striking honesty throughout “Anodyne as Oblivion,” fans can expect Pandolfo to stick to his strengths as a masterful wordsmith as comfortable with a mic as he is his trusty typewriter.
Conscious Robot’s spacious and experimental musicality makes numerous listens of Emotionauts necessary. “This is the strongest relationship and interactivity I’ve ever had with a producer,” Pandolfo said. “So it’s really the first time where I feel like I’m not just adding my vocals on top of the music. There’s musicality and a progressive quality with Conscious Robot that hasn’t always been there in some of the more lo-fi boom-bap stuff that I’ve rapped on. I love that stuff, but it tends to have a uniform feel.”
With debut rap guest Kavi, songwriter Laurie Anne Creus, poet and singer Marie Polaris, metal guitarist and vocalist Brian Kjellgren, and Necter singer/songwriter Sam Raia, Emotionautus boasts the most collaborations of any AllOne full-length to date.