Monday, March 17, 2008

#25: Why?>Alopecia>Bald-faced truths

Artist : Why?
Album : Alopecia (3rd Domestic LP)
Release : 03.11.08
Label Name : Anticon
Catalog # : 0080
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Players : Andrew Broder, Mark Erikson, Doug McDiarmid, Josiah Wolf, Yoni Wolf
Produced By : The Wolf Brothers
Runtime : 44:56
Area Tour Dates : 03.24.08 @ Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton & 03.25.08 @ The Middle East, Cambridge
Sound Season :Spring, Summer
iTunes Worthy Tracks : The Vowels Pt. 2, These Few Presidents, The Hollows, Fatalist Palmistry
Sounds Like : Subtle For Hero: For Fool
Rating : B-

For the best, most engaging music makers, genre labeling is often a fruitless labor. A "file under rock" sticker on an album is almost always a sign of unique promise. The Anticon label, most often associated with indie-hop purveyors like Jel, Odd Nosdam and 13 & God here puts out something really not so far removed from all that, and yet, very different sounding.

The difference lies in the delivery. Why?'s lyrics sound like they were intended to be rapped (I'm talking rap as poetry — as art — rather than as gangster posturing), but are instead sung. At their best they are fluid, unconfrontational, memorable and they tell a story or at least provide a vivid vignette. At their worst they are loose and spastic, seemingly disconnected. Yoni Wolf's voice is almost like Stephen Merrit doing an impression of John Linnel (he's fairly nasal, but not annoyingly so), especially on "These Few Presidents" when he sings:

I thought I had a pebble in my sock, I pulled it off and shook out a wasp
It stumbled out lost and without a pause, unstung as I was, still I stomped it

It's geeky, quirky and clever and — if you're like me — it gets your attention. It makes you want to listen closely to see what else you might be missing.

It's perfect then that it is followed by the particularly brilliant "The Hollows," which is the highlight of the whole outing, owing to the genius of this verse:

In Berlin I saw two men fuck in a dark corner of a basketball court, just the slight jingle of pocket change pulsing
In the tourist part I lost fifty Euros to the guy with the walnut shells and the marbles, it really pissed me off so I thought I'd go back to get my money, but all my homies warned me, "Oh no, those gypsies probably got knives"

The instrumentation on this song is excellent too. It's sneaky and dark — precisely appropriate for slinking through alleyways, trailing someone who's got information you need. The humming bass and tip-toe guitar always provide a satisfying punctuation to precede the chorus.

The rest of the album is entirely listenable with many moments of inspired clarity like the poppy, upbeat "Fatalist Palmistry." But the slower songs like "Good Frida" and "The Fall of Mr. Fifths" can tend to fall into a much more typical hip-hop rut. The lines take on a rhythmic, lulling swing. It is by no means a bad thing for a song to do this, but the hammock laziness of it fades perception. It's like laying back looking up at nothing but blue sky. Its a pleasant monotony, but monotony just the same.

This fusion that artists like Busdriver and Why? are creating is of particular interest to me because I love the lyrics-as-a-puzzle mentality of hip-hop and the emotive organics of rock. Bring it together with a poppy chorus that can't be unstuck from your brainfolds and I'll listen all day, and I think a lot of other people will too.