Alopecia – Why?
Rummaging into his living, the poet fetches/ the images out that hurt and connect. – W. H. Auden
In 2005, Why? — the indie arm of the hip-hop heavy Anticon Collective — released Elephant Eyelash, a loose-limbed lo-fi beauty of a record that swims in all the spaces in between. Part hip-hop, part surrealistic psychedelic swirl, part melodic indie semi-pop, part laptop-twiddling goodness, it crosses over into all territories and occupies none. Perhaps above all else, it’s a record packed to bursting with ideas and therefore a helluva hard record to follow-up.
Alopecia wastes no time in answering the bell and comes out swinging. Opening with a thick, punching beat and a thwacking chain, it sounds from second one more direct, focused, and aggressive than its predecessor. On the whole, it is, but all is not normalized here, and what the record lacks in sonic surprise it more than makes up for in lyrical bite. Frontman/leader Yoni Wolf knocks you off your perch immediately (‘I’m not a ladies’ man/ I’m a landmine, filming my own fake death.’), and you can spend the rest of the record trying to get back to predictable ground. From Bukowski-style lows (‘Sucking dick for drink tickets/ at the free bar/ at my cousin’s bat mitzvah’) to frank observation (‘In Berlin I saw/ two men fuck/ in the dark corner/ of a basketball court—/ just the slight jingle/ of pocket change pulsing’) to wry self-deflation (‘My fear of the bear at/ Showbiz Pizza when I was six/ was overwhelming/ and not dissimilar to this’), to zen-like beauty (‘Shine a flashlight in a hatbox/ and spin an empty oyster shell/ and celebrate the hollows’) to what passes for a profession of love on this record (‘Even though I haven’t/ seen you in years,/ yours is a funeral/ I’d fly to from anywhere’) Yoni finds the images and words that startle with their confessional perversity, their beauty, and their unpredictability and delivers them all in a talk-sung patter that drifts between straight rap and (occasionally) outright singing.
If we’re to take Auden’s word above for some kind of truth, there’s plenty of hurt here, whether it’s of the in-the-wake-of-the-girl variety or of the gutter-surfing brand-new-personal-low variety or the suicidal ruminations that carry over from the last record, which implores you to "always be working on a suicide note." Still somehow, and the trick must be in Yoni’s unaffected and open voice, we connect even when the material seems most personal and least inviting. Whether he’s jerking off in a museum or puking behind Whole Foods or "mortaring [his] earholes shut/ in a rush with wet coke/ in a Starbucks’ bathroom," we’re right there with him, for better or worse. But we’re with him too when (in the album’s final act) he seizes life again and chants, "While I’m alive/ I’ll feel alive" across several songs.
Where Why? was once Yoni’s project, it is now a proper band, a fully functional five-piece rooted by Yoni’s metronomic brother Josiah on drums and decorated with keys, guitar, and bass, and they have largely traded in experimentation for focus. It provides a commonality that makes this record more consistent and more predictable than Eyelash
. Predictability has its benefits, and whether the band is accelerating measure by measure through the midsection of ‘Song of the Sad Assassin’ or hammering it’s way through ‘The Fall of Mr. Fifths’ or chiming its way through the stalker anthem ‘Simeon’s Dilemma,’ it is up to the task. (Incidentally, when Rhino finally puts out Got you In My Sights – 20 Great Stalker Anthems
this track with its sweetly sung ‘Stalker’s my whole style/ and if I get caught I’ll/ deny, deny, deny’ refrain would work great next to Ween’s ‘Object.’ I’m just saying.)
I could probably have saved us all some time here and just said this from the start: I got this record two weeks ago, and I have listened to it at least twice a day (and sometimes as much as five times a day) every day but one since I got it. I don’t remember the last time something monopolized my time this way, and I’m still finding new wrinkles. It’s a thick, dense, and tightly woven effort that invites you to pull its bits out and examine each in turn, and it holds up to the close inspection. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s sure as hell for me. I’m connected, and I don’t think Alopecia
‘s going to let me go for a while.