Why? – Alopecia
Record Label: Anticon Records
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Listening to a Why? album for the first time is a lot like having your hands and legs duct taped together, while blindfolded, and then being driven around in the trunk of a car with odd noises blasting through the speakers. When the car finally stops you’re scared shitless and exhilarated. Much like the sticky residue left from duct tape on hairy arms (trust me, it’s a bitch to get off), Why? will not go away easily. Yoni Wolf’s flow might irk some due to its fairly languid delivery, but his lyrics continually smash all preconceived notions about what is necessary for a song to “make sense” or “tell a story.” Although Why? started off as Wolf’s solo thingamajig (see: Oaklandazulasylum), Alopecia makes wonderful use of all the band’s talented musicians (namely, Josiah Wolf's mindbending beats). Wolf’s zaniness shines through on each note, but the power of collaboration has done wonders for his sound brainchild.
“The Vowels Pt.2” begins the album with heavy bass and the lines: “I’m not a ladies man / I’m a landmine / Filming my own fake death.” I’m not sure if eloquence is the right word for what goes on throughout Alopecia, but hearing those words spat out sounds wonderful and truly genius. Slight beatboxing highlights the tambourines and piano bits, making it quite clear early; this is in every way a mash-up record. “These Few Presidents” features the best (and possibly most profound) chorus Why? has ever concocted. A carnival-esque keyboard (a recurring theme throughout Alopecia) transitions into the dark, downtrodden lines of, “These few presidents / Drowning in my pocket / Can persuade no God / To let me let you off / Even though I haven’t seen you in years / Yours is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere.” Your headphones will resonate with profoundness and bass.
There’s a moment during each Why? album when everything clicks. It can take months or mere minutes (“Crushed Bones” had me buzzing by the chorus!) to find, but I found my lightbulb at one of the strangest points of Alopecia. “The Hollows” continues the slightly sinister vibe of “These Few Presidents,” but it is decidedly more rock-oriented (there is even a raw guitar solo halfway through). The song features magnificent buildups of bass drum and piano. After one of these crescendos, Wolf slurs, “In Berlin / I saw two men / Fuck in a dark corner of a basketball court / Just a slight jingle of pocket change pulsing.” Yeah, it’s a bit gross and definitely dirty. But I'd be lying if I said I haven't imagined the scene. That’s Wolf’s true power. As strange as Why? can be, we are always given free reign to walk around inside his mind. However, much like one of those 3-D puzzles, only some will be able to see what’s truly hidden. Pray you’re one of the lucky.
Whoa, I spent a lot of space talking about those three songs. Allow some abridged notes on other notable tracks: “Gnashville” uses overpowering drum fills and a repeating, rigid guitar riff to create a playground for lines like, “That’s what the ghost of someone’s dad might say.” “The Fall of Mr. Fifths” is fairly simple compared to the rest of Alopecia. The song is almost all drumbeats, which places the focus right on Wolf’s unusually quick delivery. Think of it as an homage to earlier sounds, but enhanced with the new car-smell of evolution. “By Torpedo Or Crohn’s” has an ironic, happy-go-lucky chorus of “Da Da Da’s” and descending violin notes. While simple in its beat, “Torpedo” weaves self-reflective lyrics into a complicated portrait of Wolf. (“If I’m not raw / I’m just a bit underdone.”) This guy needs to write a book.
Ok, I went over my word quota just a tad. I’ll risk you not reading all of this because it would be a disservice to rush through Alopecia. There’s just too much happening. Few artists get as personal as Wolf. Nobody observes like him. With each listen I notice a new line, a new intricacy, a new inner meaning. For me, that’s what it’s all about.
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