Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why? - Oaklandazulasylum

Why? – Oaklandazulasylum

Anticon, 2003
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $3

Tracing Yoni Wolf’s rap career is a lot like charting the course of Evolution. If Clouddead was the primordial ooze, Oaklandazulasylum was where he grew stubby legs and crawled out of the sea and onto terra firma. This and the sole Hymie’s Basement album are the first phase of the Yoni Wolf that put out three of my favorite albums: Elephant Eyelash, Alopecia, and Eskimo Snow. Those three albums serve as a sort of brutally honest triptych of the artist as a lovable asshole featuring songwriting as good as anyone writing songs in the mid 00s. Oaklandazulasylum is Wolf’s first album as Why? and it plays like a series of sketches laced with a handful of honest to God gems (“Early Whitney,” “Afterschool America,” “Dirty Glass,” “A Little Titanic” to name a few). Here Wolf’s writing becomes more coherent and direct without sacrificing the cryptic lyrics he’d been churning out before. The directness of the lyrics teaming up with the sweetness of the melodies and the potent imagery on “Early Whitney” is the clear turning point. A sort of blueprint for the shape of Why? to come. I don’t know why it always feels so inclined to analyze Why?’s discography. It always happens any time I try to sit down and write about one of their albums. Maybe it’s because I saw Why? perform an absolutely gorgeous version of “Dirty Glass” and didn’t even recognize the song because the words to the original are so buried in electronic haze. But that version of the song was so gorgeous, sung by the two ladies in the band. The fact that these songs stand up to constant reinterpretation and sound just as good or better (they all seem to sound insanely profound when Yoni plays them solo on a keyboard) is a rare and special thing and I don’t know where I got obsessed but it happened and though I hated Mumps, Etc despite like fifty listens over the span of a month, I ain’t giving up on Why?.

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