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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hair Loss as Existential Dread

posted by on March 11 at 11:20 AM




Few lyricists—outside of perhaps the realm of black metal—are as obsessively morbid as Why? songwriter Yoni Wolf. Probably none are as self-conscious about it. From opener “The Vowels, Pt. 2,” which has him “filming his own fake death” to the coda “Exegesis,” a brief, circular suicide diagram, death casts a long shadow. Even his love songs are grim: The lilting, affectionate “These Few Presidents” has as its most romantic sentiment the promise, “Even though I haven’t seen you in years/Yours is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere,” and the musically upbeat occultist mash note “Fatalist Palmistry” bookends fleeting hope with the lines “I sleep on my back ‘cause it’s good for the spine/and coffin rehearsal” and “God put a song on my palm that you can’t read/I’ll be embalmed with it long before you’ll see.” Why?’s gallows act would be pretty depressing—okay, it is pretty depressing—if it weren’t so full of unexpected, funny, and downright thrilling turns of phrase.

Musically, this is Why?’s most solid work yet, the full realization of their transition from bedroom-produced post-hop toward something more freaky and folky. Ghostly samples and echoes accent electric-guitar peals and bass dirges; minor-key piano melodies follow funeral-procession rhythms. Walking down the street, the nodding, downer cadences of “Good Friday” or “By Torpedo or Crohn’s” feel like an enveloping force field—gloom as a comforting coat. (The notable exception to the overwhelmingly dark mood is the near-Weakerthans prairie twang on the briefly bright chorus of “Fatalist Palmistry.”)

When the lyrics aren’t grave digging, they’re confessional, full of what Wolf calls, “The kind of shit I don’t admit to my head shrinker”: Here’s Wolf jacking off in an art museum bathroom; here he is losing his lunch on his shoes in the Whole Foods parking lot; here’s him angrily stalking Berlin after dark; here he is neurotically oversanitizing his hands. Throughout, Wolf’s wordplay is clever and agile enough to make even the heaviest or most absurd scenes charming—”The Fall of Mr. Fifths” features a double-time breakdown about school-district funding and interpretive dance (seriously) that just totally slays. Alopecia may lack the bright spots of the band’s previous, Elephant Eyelash, but it’s no less stunning an album.

Why? - “The Hollows”

Alopecia is out today. Why? plays the Vera Project Thurs, April 17th with Mount Eerie and Generifus.

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