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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