Exactly half way through the album Yoni Wolf breaks the fourth wall and confidently sneers, “and I know saying all this in public should make me feel funny/but you gotta yell something out you’d never tell nobody”. It is hard to imagine mustering the apathy or the sincerity to say something like this after breathing some of the most hyper-confessional lines that border exhibitionism and a cry for help. Yoni Wolf, however, weaves the ugliest parts of his body, his shallow grasp on mortality and his deepest fears into universal koans that make all of our concerns, flaws, and failures seem like crass excuses we give in order not to investigate deeper into ourselves and our relationship to the outside world. Why? can turn a phrase like it ain’t no joke.
I would like to say I am intimately familiar with pretty much everything Why? has ever put out. When my wife and I first dated “Elephant Eyelash” was the first cd I ever gave her. Two years later she recently outed Why? as her favorite artist. This came as no surprise, there is hardly an occasion we are not listening to one of his three proper albums. For first time listeners and vets alike “Eskimo Snow” is a deceptively easy album to digest. His most “un-hip-hop” album ever is an understatement. Yoni Wolf’s voice, which has always fluctuated between a hyper-punctual talk-rap cadence and an understated whiny croon, has finally found a mid range we can all live with. This new found voice is celebrated with some very “un-hip-hop” like traits. For example “One Rose” is an almost country music ode to death. Complete with slide guitars, bowed fiddles, picked guitars and Yoni’s half-Howe-Gelb-half-Cass-McCombs drawl. This song is, however, not a complete departure for Why? His trademark malleted layered percussion and bells are featured here (and everywhere on the album) along with the repetition of the line from Odd Nosdam’s 2007 Level Live Wires song “Kill Tone Two”, “I never saw my parents try to make a thing like me/with time in the bathroom mirror I learned to accept my body”.The whole album is incredibly live sounding. Where Why? found most of his best moments with studio experimentation, pitch-shifted vocals, processed everything, you won’t find any of that here. In fact I’ll bet everything translates almost verbatim when they perform these songs live. (I’ll let you know in a month)
The single that pulls the whole thing together is the amazing “This Blackest Purse”. While it may be the catchiest song on the album it is by far the most devastating. While none of the songs have the same catchiness as “Alopecia” or the bite of “Elephant Eyelash” one cannot marvel that this is by far Wolf and CO. most accomplished, elegant, and mature release to date. Recorded in Nashville by Lambchop’s Mark Nevers, his precision instrumentation and generally subdued output reins in Why’s? tendencies to chop up songs into a million ideas and lets each song unfurl slowly and gracefully. I don’t want to give away too many one-liners or phrases from “Eskimo Snow”, because there are moments on this album that everyone should experience, whether it makes you smile or sends a shiver up your spine. Astounding.