Monday, July 27, 2009

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Why? - Eskimo Snow

release date: September 22nd, 2009

I feel obligated to talk about this "leak of the week." Last year, my favorite album of the year was Why?'s Alopecia. It was my favorite by far, and I began to think of Why? as one of my new favorite bands. I think they still are, but Eskimo Snow isn't helping.

Yoni Wolf was one of my all time favorite interviews as well. He's a very fascinating dude, mysterious and perverse and creative. So when I experienced such underwhelming feelings upon my first listen of Eskimo Snow, I frowned. All of the low points of Alopecia and Elephant Eyelash are stronger than the best parts of this new one.

I think I need to explain what I loved about Alopecia and Elephant Eyelash before I go on tearing into Eskimo Snow. Elephant Eyelash first. This album still doesn't really have a peer. The dark, poetic hip-hop rhymes amidst multi-instrumental surprises gripped me quick. The music is as startling as the lyrics, and you have no idea what sound you'll hear next. Nor do you have an inkling into what horrific image Yoni's lyrics will put into your mind. You feel bold just listening to the album.

And then Alopecia stepped up a notch higher. Any edgy, unsettling feeling that I had with Elephant Eyelash was now tripled. The album challenged me. Spiritually, artistically and intellectually, Alopecia was brutal. Eskimo Snow is anything but brutal. It's ten tracks, all devoid of hip hop, all lyrically tame. The album is monotone. Yoni has rhymed the monotone thing before to great success, because he always backed it up with intense lyrical imagery and brilliant orchestration. But Eskimo Snow doesn't leave this strange zone of unwavering monotony. Folks, you know how much it pains me to say these things, but the new Why? album is boring.

But I shouldn't be that surprised. It's basically a b-sides album for Alopecia. All of the songs were recorded at the same time, Anticon has just been trying to release them in their own context. It's kind of like when Sufjan released The Avalanche. And we all know how mixed those feelings were.

Folks, this is why editing is one of the greatest virtues creative people can have. There is a lot of art that must not ever see the light of day. That's not to say that its creation and existence is not important, the unseen art is absolutely essential. But some art merely exists to show its creator what is effective and what isn't, what is for the world and what is for the individual creator. The songs on Eskimo Snow should tell Yoni that he made the right decisions by cutting them out of Alopecia. They would have muddled the album. But now here they are, trying to stand on their own merit. Suddenly, Why?'s intrigue has diminished, and we have disappointment as a result of lacked artistic self-control.

The three tracks at the end are the album's best. Berkeley By Hearseback, This Blackest Purse, and Eskimo Snow. Those three should have been released by themselves, as an EP, maybe with a remix for a fourth track. Everything else sounds like They Might Be Giants without the fun. It's fine if Yoni wants to sing through an entire album and try different things. But if that means that his music becomes less dynamic as a result, then he shouldn't. Eskimo Snow is a huge sidestep for Why?. A misstep.

Now, the undeniable theme of the album is death. Irony, irony, irony. Ironic, dear readers, because this album kills the fantastic and mystical elements that used to be one of Why?'s strongest qualities. The discography is now forever tainted. Let's just hope that Yoni experiences a resurrection. That's why I'll attend the Chicago date of his upcoming tour. I think Yoni needs our support more than ever. Despite the sentiment of Eskimo Snow, this isn't the end of Why?.  Not yet.

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