A few years ago, California’s Why? released Elephant Eyelash, an album that seemed to come out of nowhere to with its twisted patchwork of geeky hip-hop, euphoric pop melodies and indie-slacker sensibilities. It represented a massive leap forward for Yoni Wolf, who’s words and voice are core to the Why? sound. Formerly of exalted avant-rap group cLOUDDEAD and a core signing to Oakland’s hip Anticon. label, his previous solo work was promising, with moments of genius mired in a lo-fi aesthetic and a see-what-sticks canvas. On Elephant Eyelash, it came into focus: he found a distinct voice and style that suited his frank, acerbic words and their dexterous delivery.
Last year’s Alopecia took the outline of its predecessor and coloured it much darker, with harder percussion and gloomy, funereal synths framing Wolf’s pained, cathartic lyrics, which were so personal you felt like a creepy voyeur unable to take your eyes off the prize. Recorded at the same time as Alopecia but only released this month, Eskimo Snow’s ten songs feel like the closest thing to a bright side.
Produced by Mark Nevers, who has previously worked with Americana artists including Lambchop and Calexico, this new one immediately feels cleaner and more organic from the opening bars of first track ‘These Hands’, delivering a sound more akin to seeing the trio live. Intricately connected percussion, glockenspiel and keyboards play off each other, drawing you unwittingly into Wolf’s still-dark narratives, morbid and blackly humorous as ever.
I know saying all this in public should make me feel funny,
but ya gotta yell something out you’d never tell nobody.
– The Shadows of My Embrace
The songs that make up Eskimo Snow never feel like offcuts from Alopecia, in part because of the difference in production and that stylistically they feel more like pop songs, albeit broken ones. The galloping ‘Against Me’ has a chorus so catchy you’ll struggle to remove its squelchy synth-glockenspiel combo from your head, while ‘Even The Good Wood Gone’, where Wolf draws a connection between his eventual, mundane death and that of a Pharoah in a museum, is wrapped up in acoustic guitar and harp. These additions are clear throughout the record, bringing new textures to the typically atypical Why? sound but they are still a long way off folk songs and all the better for it.
Listen to Eskimo Snow in full at Spotify.
To promote Eskimo Snow, Why? have collaborated with director Andre Hyland to produce a bizarre 10-episode web mockumentary, detailing the band leaving Anticon. in search of commercial success under the advice of new manager Blake (an approximation of Tobias from Arrested Development). It comes off like an overlong, at times tedious but occasionally hilarious Saturday Night Live skit. Worth a watch though. Here’s part one:
Parts 2-10 are on Vimeo.