Review Summary: I am pretty much predisposed to liking this.
There were a few months after the release of Alopecia
that I felt like the brunt of an elaborate joke. With the vividness that Yoni Wolf, the voice behind Why?, described suburban life, failing relationships and something resembling first loves, his observations seemed too on-the-mark to be anything less than a snide satire on the suburban life Alopecia
seemed bred from. For a while, this made sense; with tracks like “Good Friday” detailing the alienated, drugged up youth that I myself have been surrounded by since I became a teenager, Wolf seemed to dare the very same kids to latch onto his slow, methodical ramblings full of puns, erratic rhyme schemes and understated use of product placements. More so than most artists, Wolf hit a nerve for me, and though I felt speculated on, almost condescended to, Wolf created a universe I didn’t only understand, but lived in. It wasn’t just an emotional investment; I practically set up camp.
But as I listen to the guitar chords and the tinny boom in “Good Friday” again for the 58th time (that’s not including any number of car drives around town), the song climaxing into a wall of hollow white noise that ends, suddenly, with the opening beat of “These Few Presidents,” I know that Alopecia
’s commentary (social
, too!) couldn’t come from anyone but an inside source. More so than that, Alopecia
becomes a dense, unnerving experience because of its inability to treat any of Wolf’s issues with a condescending simplicity. Tracks bind themselves in reverb, turn inwards onto themselves, and each become their own, separate entities strung along by an impressive sense of integration. Way back in February, I approached Alopecia
with an interest in its musical structure with a fleeting pursuit of its subject matter, but the strength to Alopecia
is the way both sides of these drowning presidents interact with each other.
As Wolf’s third release under Why? (their second as a full-band), Alopecia
takes on the duty of fleshing out the arc of progression with a noticeable flourish. It’s the corner where Oaklandazulasylum
and Elephant Eyelash
meet, full of Yoni’s signature (what anticon’s website describes as) candytime-dissonant, singsong-suicide style. That begins as soon as the spacious “The Vowels Pt. 2” starts to spark, the rattle of its percussion sulking along with the tight, built-upon bass line. The song stands, appropriately enough, as largely impersonal, though Wolf’s thesis statement seems obvious enough: “I wish all my pitfalls could be caught by this call,” followed closely by a lamented greeting and its sly suffix. The defining moment is in the song’s slow, dramatic unraveling into the lyrical exercise, “Good Friday,” Wolf’s voice a mix of apathetic acceptance and a simmer of hostility.
The possibilities behind Wolf’s deadpan delivery is endless (how many ways can one read, “Jerking off in an art museum john till my di
ck hurts”?), but the beauty (not only in “Good Friday” but Alopecia
) is in recognizing childhood staples along with him, from the casual Silver Jew namedropping to a jab at Whole Foods right down to off-handed quips about boxes of Cracker Jack. When the locomotive piano rush of “Songs of the Sad Assassin” becomes warped and chaotic, Wolf’s refrain is odd but personal (“I feel like a loop of the last eight frames of film / before a slow-motion Lee Harvey Oswald gets shot in the gut and killed’), standing alone “putting three coins into a washing machine” (reportedly a response to the dismantlement of cLOUDDEAD, but let’s not jump to conclusions). Moments make Alopecia
, like the whimsical charm in “These Few Presidents” when he states, “Even though I haven’t seen you in years, yours is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere.”
Still, this late in the summer, I get gushy talking about how I interpret different elements of Alopecia
. In the soft, diluted whistle and the Wolf's sharp flow that guides “Gnashville,” pasted over the erratic, stacked percussion, the second verse’s back and forth delivery is so quick it’s barely noticeable, but the edge to the snide remarks suggests a deeper connotation. “Fatalist Palmistry” is a rather simple indie-rock tune, an upbeat number that counterbalances the lyrical imagery: “I sleep on my back because it’s good for the spine / and coffin rehearsal.” Even the tight bass in "The Hollows" gains a considerable edge to it, pulling into the marching drum verse where Yoni proclaims, "In Berlin I saw two men fu
ck / in the dark corner of a basketball court." The stalker in “Simeon’s Dilemma” is so genuine amongst the rainfall of pianos and rising drum rolls that its mockery of ballads barely registers. Even when the song hits its dream-pop turning point (“Are you a female young messiah?"), his actions can be redeemed by his regretful final sigh, "You're mostly what I think about."
There’s the key to Alopecia
’s success, I suppose. Their ability to take Yoni’s self-indulgent moments (“By Torpedo or Crohn’s”), and moments of self-clarity (“Good Friday”), exaggerated slice-of-life moments and build something realistic and, most of all, intelligent. There will be people that like Alopecia
more than might seem appropriate, myself included, but those people might as well have written “Good Friday” themselves.