Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why? - Eskimo Snow

After co-founding Anticon, an Oakland-based label/collective considered “out-there” even by abstract hip-hop standards, Yoni Wolf (aka Why?) decided a few years back that he’d have a go at playing in a band. So the MC formed and now fronts a 3-piece retaining the Why? moniker.

Last year’s Alopcia, the second release as a band, was a brilliant combination of whacked-out hip hop and indie rock. These 10 songs were culled from the same batch of recordings as Alopecia, but lest you think that translates into a hastily thrown together project consisting of left over scraps, let me assure you, this is a hell of record. It’s genius might not be apparent instantly like it’s predecessor, but it’s a grower – a record that merits repeat listening.

Wolf continues his foray into uncharted territory, giving us an LP’s worth of folksy art-rock with nary a drum loop in sight. Sonically, Eskimo Snow feels blithe, casual and unrestrained. This is no doubt partially due to the decision to go with live drumming , but that’s not the whole story. With such a profusion of delicate-soft instrumentation - jingling pianos, sliding guitars, etc. - the whole approach seems more free form. Wolf, himself described it as “more wild”, noting the increased use of room mic’s on the drums. The grooves may be looser, but these are fully fleshed out songs, especially lyrically speaking.

Wolf’s greatest strength as a lyricist (in my opinion) has always been the seemingly bottomless well of bizarre imagery he is cabable of conjuring. When coupled with a sharp wit and the ability to deftly juxtapose cumbersome phrasing in an organic, stream-of-conscious manner, Wolf’s persona becomes anomalous. Though he’s completely eshewed the rhyming in favor of singing, it doesn’t compromise one bit the aesthetic weirdness that characterized him as an MC. On January Twenty Something he sings “If you called, and i didn't answer , / there's a chance I'll get back to you / but if you're bald, fat, and go where my pants were, / then you know I'm breeding for two”

Overall, the lyrical content of this album is pretty neurotic. Shot through with mortality and sex, it leans hard toward the morbidly introspective. And though he’s well known for self-deprecating, Wolf seems to drop any pretension or snarkiness, displaying instead, a more personal side of himself. It’s a good look. Even as he declares, “I conquered my own childhood silence / and now the world is my lit confessional marquee” on Into the Shadows of My Embrace there’s an earnest vulnerability that is truly endearing. The chorus of Against Me for instance is, “Oh am I too concerned with the burn of scrutiny? / Cold chased on run and covered like a horse before the race / Will I gain weight in later life? / And when will someone swing a scythe against me?”

The album finishes very strongly with a triage of what can only be called ballads. Berkeley by Herseback, The Blackest Purse and Eskimo Snow are gorgeous songs period. Wolf demonstrates that he’s plenty capable of following up a great record with out having to resort to more of the same.

No comments: