Release Date: Sep 22, 2009
Record label: Anticon
Genre(s): Indie, Rap
Anticon continues its run of superb 2009 releases with Eskimo Snow, Why?‘s follow-up to last year’s Alopecia. Recorded at the same time as that well-received album, Eskimo Snow is the stronger set and a significant step forward for the band. Although Alopecia frequently impressed with its clever, at times audacious sonic and lyrical approaches, it also reflected an excess of cunning that kept the album a bit too distant from the listener.
With so many bands recycling their predecessors' sounds and ideas, it’s always refreshing when a group claims a sound that can’t quite be classified. Over the course of their career, the members of Oakland-based Why? have achieved this ineffable feat: stumping critics and fans alike over just what their fractured tone is and what musical direction they will end up taking. In the past, the innovative instrumentalists in the metaphor-spinning collective have consistently stuck to a repertoire that is half hip-hop and half reflective melody.
It probably says more than enough about my initial attachment to Why?’s new record, Eskimo Snow, that it took months to start writing about it. Ok, some of that may be down to laziness amongst other more pressing matters but when the follow-up to Alopecia – my personal album of 2008 – drops onto your doormat, scant encouragement is needed to indulge in whatever Yoni Wolf and company have to offer. Disappointingly, not being able to deal all that well with being let down is a recurring theme.
During an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year, WHY?'s Yoni Wolf called Eskimo Snow, "really the least hip-hop out of anything I've ever been involved with. " This might just be a less verbally economical way of saying, "we did this with the guy who produced the last Clientele record. " Wolf's got a dry sense of humor like that.
You’ve gotta love an artist who always finds ways to surprise you. Yoni Wolf has consistently surprised over the course of albums by cLOUDDEAD, Hymie’s Basement, Reaching Quiet, and for the last seven years as Why?, a project which shares a name with his hip-hop alias. Just starting with the Why? material alone, you see Wolf moving from the abstract hip-hop of cLOUDDEAD to the severely skewed bedroom folk of Oaklandazulasylum, into hooky full-band indie-rock and pop on Elephant Eyelash, and then to Alopecia, a diverse, moody batch of songs following their own inner logic and employing rock, rap, minimalism, and pop styles.
With last year's Alopecia, Why? launched back onto the indie landscape with a cross-pollinated genre collapse contorted into an infectious amalgam of hip-hop, pop, and art-punk that trailed Yoni Wolf's Clouddead wake and somehow gelled in spite of itself. The Oakland-based trio's third LP for Anticon and fourth overall serves somewhat as Alopecia's more intimate and darker coda, recorded in the same 2007 sessions with Fog's Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson. Though the tunes propel with the same unshackled, constantly shifting, and off-kilter rhythms and vocals, Eskimo Snow never wanders as far afield, while largely avoiding Wolf's art-rap proclivities.