Zesty indie with a lyrical sharpness impossible to fake.
Mike Diver 2009-10-13
With Alopecia, released in early 2008, earning Californian trio Why? the sort of reviews that should have seen it figure far higher in year-end best-of lists, this fourth long-player arrives with expectations bubbling over. But anticipation for a step forward in compositional creativity and lyrical cleverness is kept in check, as Eskimo Snow was recorded at the same time as its predecessor. It’s less a successor, more a companion piece.
While we find vocal lynchpin Yoni Wolf, who originally started Why? as a solo vehicle after his old hip hop group cLOUDDEAD disbanded, on typically fine form, weaving narratives from dazzling wordplay more commonly heard at poetry slams than on pop records, musically Eskimo Snow doesn’t engage as effectively as Alopecia. Its ten songs are enjoyably eccentric, quirky compositional tangents colouring over the lines of indie-pop structures, and had they been compiled as a bonus disc on the aforementioned collection, great. But as a standalone album Eskimo Snow feels rather watery in places.
Into the Shadows of My Embrace is one example of this sense that these songs are, occasionally, half an idea stretched to an uncomfortable length. Wolf, who’s joined in the band by brother Josiah and Doug McDiarmid, is perfect in his role as protagonist baring his black-and-blue soul, but the music around him buzzes and whines with ceremonial bombast. It’s not that Why? can’t do loud; it’s just that when they do you want them to mean it, and weirdly here it doesn’t sound that way.
Of course, such an observation is purely subjective, and speaking from the perspective of someone in love with Alopecia it’s perhaps inevitable that Eskimo Snow doesn’t flick all these switches. But there are highs that reveal themselves given the chance – the bizarre squelches of On Rose Walk, Insomniac stack up to dizzying effect, The Blackest Purse is luscious of lamenting spirit, and Against Me’s observation that “electricity can travel up your p*** stream” is a lot more affecting than it sounds. In fact, there are several moments of beauteous brilliance, only undermined by the fact that this isn’t quite a match for the inspirational Alopecia.
But by any other act’s standards, Eskimo Snow qualifies as a zesty indie-hop collection with a lyrical sharpness that’s impossible to fake.