May 09, 2005

Why? "Sanddollars"

Yoni Wolf is Why?, a long-standing member of the experimental hip-hop collective Anticon. As a member of cLOUDDEAD, he's been responsible for some really interesting electronic music, but with Why? he eschews the colder aspects of his other collaborations, going for a more organic, natural approach. (By "organic" we mean traditional music, not granola hippie crap.) On the surface, his blend of lo-fi indie-rock and hip-hop sensibilities might seem a bit worrisome, but with The Early Whitney and Oaklandazulasylum, he proved to be quite capable of blending the two. With Sanddollars, Why? takes his sound one step further by introducing a full live band, and this simple step has given his music an added depth that his previous records simply couldn't achieve.

With a live band, Why? shows that he's much more than a bedroom badass. The inability to perform live is a drawback of being a one-man band, and that inability informs the writing process. When you have a live band, though, thought is given to live performance and the ability to entertain a live audience. Sanddollars is a most entertaining record, thanks in part to Why?'s lyrical prowess, which is both quite witty and seemingly autobiographical, and thankfully he's too clever to waste his talents rhyming about his ego. Instead, he'd rather sing about riding the Citibus, ("Sick 2 Think") sending emails to his friends ("Mutant John") or about how his personality hasn't changed since childhood ("500 Fingernails").

But what makes Why's hip-hop skill even more impressive is that on Sanddollars, he's not really rapping--he's singing. Applying rhyme techniques to what's essentially a basic guitar/bass/drum setup (with the addition of a keyboard), Why? has deftly subverted both hip-hop AND indie-rock. He's not making quirky folk-rock like Beck or Soul Coughing's Mike Doughty. He's not making muso-minded bedroom hip-hop a la Cex or Gold Chains, either. Even though comparisons will be made to both worlds, with Sanddollars and his use of a real-live backing band, he's created an interesting, unique style that's instantly familiar, definitely catchy and surprisingly original. This isn't some one-trick pony, either; on "Mutant John," he shows that his band can play straight-up rock; the song sounds like something a host of Spoon-loving Weezer fans might come up with, but, once again, in the hands of Why? and friends, this sound is uniquely their own.

"So the kids on the internet say that you're a big star, you make the messageboard top ten," he sings on "Miss Ohio's Nameless," a brief, rueful warning to those who seek out fame; he warns, "you'll only be famous in the underground." Sanddollars is being touted as a sneak peak for the next Why? album, Elephant Eyelash. If this little record is any indication, then that album's gonna be a monster, and Why?'s prediction will prove false.

--Joseph Kyle

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