George McGovern’s campaign manager, Frank Mankiewicz, famously said that Hunter S. Thompson’s chronicle of the ‘72 US election was the “least accurate, but most factual” account. I think much the same could be attributed to the lyrics delivered by Yoni Wolf of Why? on the basis of his recent output. On ‘This Blackest Purse’ Wolf sets out his own mission statement of sorts; “I want to speak at an intimate decibel/ with the precision of an infinite decimal/ to listen up and send back a true echo/ of something forever felt but never heard/ I want that sharpened steel of truth in every word”.
The lyrics of Why? have always been something worth dissecting, acting as both the distinguishing factor between any comparable act and the singular element that unites his discography from his time as a solo artist, through his collaborations, cLOUDDEAD, and the current incarnation of Why? as a fully formed band. The topics here remain largely the same; the full contents of his thoughts on display as Yoni dissects death, sex and his own anxieties at every turn. He is his own therapist, the language of self-analysis pouring out every song. The albums opening line, “I wear the customary clothes of my time/ like Jesus did with no reason not to die” ensures you are instantly aware the lyrics will continue where they left off on Alopecia, a stream of Jungian psychoanalysis and border-line perversion (“and I never got a name for my shady compulsion”) that could be easily mistaken for narcissism (”will I gain weight in later life?”).
Wolf again shows signs of the sort of self awareness rarely found in popular music and couples this with a new self-referential streak. ‘This Blackest Purse’ provides the most obvious example, opening with the lines “I’m not who, with my eyes, I claim to be/ I’ve only cradled death in my own ending flesh from far off and abstracted lit/ candlewick flickering”, a reference to the most prevalent topic on Alopecia that was at the forefront of tracks like ‘Song of the Sad Assassin’ with its first person account of lifting a body out of the water, and signals the beginning of a differentiation between the person or persona and the doctrine he has set himself. His embellishment is in the quest for ‘truth in every word’.
Eskimo Snow is made up of recordings taken from the same sessions as Alopecia, separated for the sake of coherence, so perhaps it is no surprise to hear “looks like a sky for shoeing horses under” on the refrain to ‘One Rose’, or his calls of “no flash photography” on ‘Even The Good Wood Gone’, taking you back to the same train of thought first heard on ‘Sick 2 Think’ from the Sanddollars EP.
The detachment of these songs from the Alopecia record to make up their own album makes perfect sense, and is entirely justified. Musically they come from a different place, mostly driven by piano and bass, with the elements of hip hop evident on the previous record now absent as they move towards a more traditional indie or plucking acoustic sound, but not necessarily for the worst. This is a record of consistency with a clear connection to Alopecia, but a key stylistic contrast. Songs like the warm folk-tinged alt indie of ‘Berkeley by Herseback’, containing a light simplistic beauty (the instrumental of which hints at something closer to Sufjan Stevens or Peter Broderick than Why? before the vocals kick in), with its acoustic guitar line pared with keyboard and a gentle kick drum, would never have quite fit on Alopecia. The album is very much piano driven, the sort of Terry Riley/Steve Reich influenced repeating, rolling piano melodies heard on ‘Simeon’s Dilemma’ feature again, dominating ‘January Twenty Something’, and heard further down the mix in other offerings, albeit with a melancholic edge. Dare I say that some of the dark sober underbelly of Alopecia has been replaced by a slightly more optimistic edge (relatively speaking ) evident on the largely acoustic title track, or ‘Even The Good Wood Gone’s complete with tender touches of steel pedal guitar. . . read more . . .http://www.whatisthegrain.com/record-review/eskimo-snow-by-why/