Why? – ‘Alopecia’

June 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, April 15, 2008.

Alopecia

Why?
Alopecia
(Anticon/Stomp)

Yoni Wolf is a savant of the taboo; he is awkward dinner conversation personified. He is the details; the vivid, disposable-camera snapshots, cut and torn and stuck back together askew. He is the man behind rap alias-turned indie rock quartet Why? and he has crafted another peculiar masterwork in new long-player Alopecia.

Having made a name alongside Adam Drucker (aka Doseone) and producer David Madson (aka Odd Nosdam) in revolutionary San Franciscan abstract hip-hop ensemble cLOUDDEAD, Wolf has spent the last half-decade flirting with melody and merging band dynamics, resulting in 2003’s ramshackle Oaklandazulasylum and the shimmering lyrical and melodic affectations of 2005’s widely celebrated Elephant Eyelash. And from the plodding, feedback-framed pop of opener ‘The Vowels Pt. 2’, Alopecia proves another stunning expansion.

This is a full band we’re witnessing here. Where previous records stitched crude bedroom instrumental takes into loosely ordered arrangements, Alopecia sees Wolf and co – brother Josiah, Doug McDiarmid and Fog’s Adam Broder and Mark Ericksow – layer assured guitar and bass hooks with swathes of shimmering keys, deft percussion and hints of programming.

But its Wolf’s lyrical overtures that make this record what it is.  Where Elephant Eyelash saw him traverse the fragments of a broken relationship, Alopecia sinks into the confused desolation of childhood memory, identity and self. The grittily sketched monologue and heart-tearing minor-key melody of ‘Gnashville’ proves one of Why?’s most affecting tracks to date, while cuts like ‘The Hollows’ are riddled with striking, evocative detail. “In Berlin I saw two men fuck in a dark corner of a basketball court,” Wolf croons. “Just the slight jingle of pocket change pulsing.”

Wolf’s real magic, though, is his ability to inject deadpan humour into his intimately personal vistas. “Sucking dick for drink tickets at my cousin’s Bat Mitzvah,” he mumbles over the guitar-led break-beat of Good Friday. “Cutting the punch line and it ain’t no joke.”

“It feels exciting touching your handwriting,” he continues in the final verse. “Getting horny by reading it and repeating ‘Poor me’.”

Wolf’s all alone here, but he’s okay with that, and it’s this precise fact that makes Alopecia such a charming listen. Why? have created a creature of intriguing and positively unusual beauty here. Alopecia proves the stuff of awkward, everyday happenstance – of sadness, self-doubt and rarely whispered human data.

Dan Rule

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