Music

Why?: Elephant Eyelash

Josh Berquist

With so many references to semen, suicide, and jerking off, how could this be anything but one of the best records of the year?"


Why?

Elephant Eyelash

Label: Anticon
US Release Date: 2005-10-04
UK Release Date: 2005-10-10
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

After a number of beautifully flawed and fractured attempts, Why?'s Yoni Wolf finally realizes his hip-hop informed indie-pop aesthetic with Elephant Eyelash. While prior efforts were undercut by his impulsive restlessness, Wolf harnesses his inherent affinity for aberration and abstraction and directs it into an album that is more engrossingly O.C.D than aversively A.D.D. While still retaining every endearing idiosyncrasy, he exhibits unprecedented restraint over song structure and subject matter allowing his masterful word working to take its rightful prominence. This newfound focus makes Elephant Eyelash even more accessible than Wolf's previous output yet proves itself every bit as adventurous.

Even at his onset, Wolf distinguished himself from fellow Anticon alumni like Sole and Doseone by being much more They Might Be Giants than Deep Puddle Dynamics. That pop playfulness was plagued by Wolf's willfully chaotic compositions of unresolved movements leapfrogging over each other at whimsy. Backed by a capable and collaborative band, Wolf elaborates on these truncated tune fragments and sustains them over an intended trajectory. Rather than the sudden swelling and hasty deflation of his early work, these songs surge into the cathartic pop that was all too often absent in the past. Although they may be more coherent, these arrangements are still hardly conventional or commonplace; brushed snare reggae rolls offset the plaintive acoustic arpeggiation at the onset of "Crushed Bones" and rollicking carnival runs punctuate the piano ballad of "Fall Saddles".

These songs bolster an improved sense of subject matter in Wolf's work. His defining "coffee's turned my darkness into Woody Allen long-sigh anxiety" obsessions with leaving lovers, sex, and death remain but trimmed away are all the absurd and impenetrably personal references to things like cat food bowls and shirtless frisbee players. Wolf keeps his focus fixed on readily identifiable if albeit aching themes and refrains from the overtly and overly intimate details that had him censoring his own vocals on his last album. Of course there's still plenty of embarrassment and awkwardness in play through numerous references to masturbation and ruminations on spent semen. Even then, Wolf avoids outright obnoxiousness with winking playfulness.

These advancements in both songs and subjects set a foundation for some of Wolf's best lyrics yet. Honing his poet's eye in "Crushed Bones", he captures the spirit of indie hip-hop back in the day when it was still just called "underground": "Us in navy blue hoodies and khakis / As was the style that year". Moving onto the bombastic head-nodding chorus of that same song, he illustrates his aptitude for elaborately unpleasant imagery with lines like "Your eyes are slits in bags of fat / And your eyes are pissholes in the snow". Yet for every discomforting passage such as a "snail in salt" writhing "for some time like a lemming's severed limb on fire" in "Act Five" there are also such humorous asides as "I'm fucking cold like a D.Q. Blizzard / You act like a slut, but you're really a freezer" in "Yo Yo Bye Bye". Astute observations abound as well in "The Hoofs": "Portrait of some Asian mountains / That says 'patience' in a funky italics". Other passages are pure pleasure like the lolling, mouthful-of-taffy euphony of "no mound of clouds to lounge on" in "Light Leaves". Then there are the precious lines like "When we're on other sides of the globe / I thought we'd keep our veins tangled like a pair of mic cables" in "Gemini (Birthday Song)" and outright beautiful images like "The rain is millions of tiny speech bubbles unused / The collected breathes of mutes and all our silent exhalations" in "Speach Bubbles".

That moving metaphor of rain drops as wordless pleas that make storms "confession weather" is wondrously woven throughout "Speach Bubbles" and establishes rain and water as one of many unifying themes in Elephant Eyelash. With aqueous images recurring again in "Gemini (Birthday Song)" and "Waterfalls", those two songs also incorporate images of physical detritus and decay that reemerge in "Light Leaves". The subject of suicide shows up there and back in "Gemini (Birthday Song)" as well as with the "always be working on a suicide note" exhortation from "Rubber Traits". The cause of all this absurdist angst may just be another album-spanning subject of an unwelcome end to a relationship.

Even more impressive than how deftly Wolf intertwines every song on the album is how he manages to deliver an otherwise dreary bundle of anxieties in a way that is delightfully engaging and even inspiring. His pervasive persona is just as goofy and giddy as it is gloomy and proves instantaneously ingratiating. Just the way he draws words like "lips" and "tapes" out into two syllables is as infectious as Mark E. Smith's supplemental "uuh"s and "aah"s attached to almost every one of his words. The passion in Wolf's playing is equally undeniable as with the way he tears into the snare drum on "Whispers Into the Others". All of this amounts to a feeling that even in the face of the most harrowing inevitability, one must act out as they can to preserve their own significance.

With this effort then, Wolf emerges from a morbid shroud of existential dread and embraces its much more vibrantly colored counterpart. Even if it is all for nothing, it is our nothing to savor as we move through it. Endorsing this by extracting beauty from his most awful and embarrassing experiences, Wolf has surpassed his personal best with one of the best records released this year.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image