Plumbiferous Media

Eskimo Snow – Why?

Sep 24th 2009
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Eskimo Snow - Why?Why?
Eskimo Snow
Score: 86

Why? is one of the founding bands of California indie-hip hop label anticon., and the careful mix of indie, folk, and hip-hop they’ve cultivated since their formation in 1997 is a perfect example of anticon.’s unique brand of music. Led by Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf (originally known as Why? prior to the group’s founding), Why? combines a number of seemingly discordant musical styles to craft music that is experimental, expressive, and intensely creative. Their newest album, Eskimo Snow, which leans towards the indie end of Why?’s musical continuum, is an excellent and thoroughly entertaining piece of music.

Musically, Why? has retained the often subdued instrumentals of their earlier albums, using muted percussion as well as a wide range of complimentary instruments, including frequent use of piano-led, colorful sections (such as the first section of “January Twenty Something,” which builds the track with an expertly placed light intro). Careful mixing blends Wolf’s voice, with its down-to-earth emotional impact, with the always-active musical sections, creating an impressively fluid sound which is still quite capable of suddenly capturing the attention of the listener. The few weak instrumental sections of Eskimo Snow are those which become over-filled, going against Why?’s more subtle strengths, such as the oddly electronic section of “On Rose Walk, Insomniac,” which becomes more confusing than interesting to listen to by its completion.

Yoni Wolf’s slightly rough half-singing, which places Why? squarely between hip-hop and indie, is as distinct on Eskimo Snow as his earlier work, with the same more-melodic structure as the rest of Why?’s newest album. Wolf’s voice provides a simultaneously firm and fluid vocal structure to the album, as his nuance-filled tone ebbs and flows through the metaphorically rich content of Eskimo Snow. Small variations in Wolf’s voice – minute changes in color or tempo – serve as a contrast with much larger, much more sudden changes. Occasional guest vocalists provide a sort of echo for Wolf (most notably on the opening track, “These Hands,” where Doug McDiarmid provides a soft undertone to Wolf’s voice), expanding the range of Eskimo Snow‘s vocal element. Given Why?’s hip-hop influence, the obvious importance of Wolf’s voice is not remarkable – but his ability to allow his voice to lead the music while preventing it from overshadowing the instrumentals is.

Eskimo Snow is as rich lyrically as it is vocally, characteristically filled with the utterly frank, occasionally blunt, but always thought-provoking products of Yoni Wolf’s creative mind. Following the electronic, swelling intro to “These Hands,” Wolf wastes no time whatsoever in starting in with the story of the track: “I wear the customary clothes of my time / Like Jesus did / With no reason not to die / Facing history / With little to no irony / Like I’m some forgotten Southern city Sherman razed / Still hid under thick smoke after all these years.” Wolf’s lyrics are vivid in the tales they tell, and they’re filled with subtleties that give them a further, impressive depth. Self-questioning to the end, Wolf wonders: “Am I too concerned with the burn of scrutiny?” “Will I spit empty threats / Until all that’s left is a million zeros printed on a roll of ticker tape?” Through Eskimo Snow, Yoni Wolf poses more questions than he answers – but that’s what makes the album, and indeed all of Wolf’s work, so compelling.

Eskimo Snow is a departure in style for Why? – more melodic, filled with more complex instrumentation than the group’s earlier work, and with a vocal shift in a similar vein. Why? has orchestrated this change quite well, and thus produced an innovative album which takes their strengths in a different direction. Eskimo Snow is an excellent and thoroughly interesting example of Why?’s versatility, at the same time musically and cerebrally interesting. In this manner, Eskimo Snow is both an experiment for the band and a continuation of the qualities they’ve displayed in their earlier work. And in both of these ways, Eskimo Snow is an excellent album.

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