Two years after wooing critics with their beloved Elephant Eyelash, WHY? return, third LP in hand. In short, Alopecia is a collection of hard rhymes and raw-spun songs forced through the stubborn smile of a life-lover scorned and reborn. In long, this is an album of bone-dry jokes, suicides played out in poem, musings on final moments written inside of restrooms, begrudging self-affirmation, and the grit and glories of every day living. Yoni Wolf has returned with the Art of Songcraft tucked under his arm. Inspired as much by MF Doom and Lil’ Wayne as J. Newsom and Big Dylan, his words roll out bent and beautiful, not unlike the musical architecture that sends those words skyward. As expected, the WHY? band—Yoni, Josiah Wolf, Doug McDiarmid—continue their calculated blitzkrieg on that self-made jangle-rap, indie pop ’n’ roll genre, but the stakes are raised. The boys returned to their Midwest roots for Alopecia, hunkering down in Minneapolis’ Third Ear studio and inducting a pair of venerable big guns into the band: Fog mastermind Andrew Broder and bassist Mark “Bear” Erickson.
Throwing their samplers to the wind (mostly), WHY? recorded live as a five-piece. By the time the core trio returned to Oakland (where Thee More Shallows’ D. Kesler engineered a final session), they’d amassed their most immediate and cohesive batch of songs to date. Alopecia begins dark and triumphant: On “The Vowels Pt. 2,” Yoni’s voice comes in strong, sweetly soured like a curdling milkshake. The band lays back for the verse—weaving feedback, paced drums and bass, simian beat-boxing and bent guitar—then goes cosmic for the close. Conversely, “Good Friday” rolls forward on a simple live beat that showcases Yoni’s rappin’est cadence in years as he wears his lowest lows like a badge: “It feels exciting/Touching your handwriting/Getting horny by reading it/And repeating, ‘Poor me.’” “These Few Presidents” marks a return to the sing-song style over an alternately bubbly and tempestuous sound, before lead single “The Hollows”—an outsider anthem featuring the ethereal oohs of Nedelle Torissi and beyond-the-grave revelations from Doseone—touches down like a twister.
Throughout Alopecia, WHY? further push the edges of their sound, mastering mood on the time-shifting “The Song of the Sad Assassin,” going ghostly with Kesler on a textured death rattle called “Gnashville,” and inflating the warped buoyancy of Elephant Eyelash via “Fatalist Palmistry.” Likewise, Yoni has honed his poems, evidenced by “The Fall of Mr. Fifths”—a twisted rap hinting at an inner Mr. Hyde—the sleepy existentialism of “Brook & Waxing,” the oral illustration offered by “A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under” and the complex cadences found in “Twenty-Eight.” It all comes to a blistering crescendo in the album’s final triptych. On “Simeon’s Dilemma,” Yoni croons to his frequent female muse/antagonizer: “Stalker’s my whole style/And if I get caught I’ll/Deny, deny, deny.” He tests the limits of his voice and the extremes of his own character over a note-for-note combination of vibes, harpsichord and piano. And before Alopecia is brought to its eerie end (the suicide-probing outro, “Exegesis”) we’re given one more offering of reverse rap braggadocio. “By Torpedo or Crohn’s” grooves like a mid-nineties gangsta BBQ jam and peaks with a recurring line from Alopecia: “While I’m alive/I’ll feel alive.” It’s a fitting final thought, even for an album as complex as this—that the perfect antithesis to the blunt finality of death is nothing more than claiming the lifeblood that is already yours. Enjoy.
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