Returning from the recent staff snowboard trip I stopped off at San Francisco's Amoeba Records and picked up my copy of Why?'s Alopecia. It seemed a fitting place to purchase this Bay Area artist and so with that and a few other missing pieces to the Anticon puzzle I embarked on the 10 hour return journey to London. Maybe it was the severe lack of sleep, or the numerous injuries that plagued my aged body - but on returning home I was all set to hit the Chimp office with a rather disappointing review of this record. After the few disjointed play-throughs on the plane, this follow up to 2005's delightful Elephant Eyelash lacked it's predecessors energy and edge. It seemed to be a pale and overproduced shadow of the work achieved by Yoni Wolf in the past.
So having started this relationship on the sunny Californian shores it took a prolonged 2 hour traffic jam on a rainy Thursday night on the A3 for the love affair to begin. Anticipating a half-hour journey, this was the only CD on my person and after about 4 back-to-back plays this record stared me square in the face with astonishing honesty and made me ashamed of the thoughts I had formed in my pitiful mind. Yoni Wolf's transformation from lo-fi, underground hip-hop to melodic indie-pop seemed to be near completion on the recent Hollows EP and I guess my initial disappointment was wrapped up in that fact. I have always been in favor of this transformation as throughout Wolf's work with either cLOUDDEAD or Reaching Quiet his gift for a melody was always there but under used and during the first half of Alopecia it is heavily exploited.
Alopecia is made up of two halves and most of the deal makers occur in the latter part of the record. From the outset it's obvious that the production has never been slicker. Wolf has always been the figurehead of a lo-fi, homemade sound but things have changed. The Vowels Pt. 2 kicks off proceedings with short, plodding steps and it's clear this hike in production quality is being put to good use. This shiny, crystal clear melody loosely glosses over the dark themes that run through this record. Sex and death is pretty much it, making Alopecia far more twisted than its predecessor. Lines like "faking suicide for applause in the food court of malls" are the norm here not to mention, "sucking dick for drink tickets and the free bar of my cousins Bar Mitzvah." Death usually relates to Yoni's own demise and is always delivered in rosy, tongue-in-cheek candy wrappers. Fatalist Palmistry begins "I sleep on my back cos it's good for the spine and coffin rehearsal.
Wolf's vocal range is what makes his work so listenable. He can go from the low, shuffling rap of Good Friday to the nasal melody of These New Presidents and his writing is so surreal, bustling with imagery and so meticulously pronounced that your ear is forced to attempt to decipher each verse but rarely succeeds . On the unnerving Simeon's Dilemma Wolf assumes the role of a stalker and describes his obsession with a certain female by way of high pitched singing tones which makes the content even more cringeworhty.
As heard on the recent EP, The Hollows carries the weight here with a rarely heard increase in volume by means of grinding guitars and crescendo vocals. The Fall Of Mr. Fifths marks the turning point of the record. It's way more in line with Wolf's earlier Anticon work with rapid delivered spoken verse and surrounded by textural atmosphere. A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under continues the spoken verse with rain-drop-like keyboards trickling down around it, it's a simple and all too short piece of work but emerges as one of the finest moments on the record. The other comes in the form of By Torpedo Or Crohn's. This was the other stand out track on the EP with a remix by Dntel, but this version is slower and allows much needed room to truly appreciate Wolf's art.
It's an art that is second to none and the distance this band have come is astonishing. Though darker in tone Alopecia is a definite progression from the airy Elephant Eyelash. Its another step to the honing of their direction and it's quite rare to see a band with direction these days. Wolf crams so many ideas into every breath of this record that it will take a lifetime to uncover it all. The shame I feel at my early judgement now serves as a reminder of the depth and complexity of this album, to not like it is to not get it i'm afraid.