Review Summary: On Eskimo Snow, Why? is a band unsure of itself, half wishing to be taken seriously, half wishing to hide behind its usual mask of sarcasm.
Yoni Wolf gives away the mystery of Eskimo Snow
pretty immediately in the record: that he’ll be ”Facing history with little to no irony.”
The thing is, the irony is exactly what made Why? fun in the first place. Up till now, one of the only reasons to listen to Why? was Wolf’s keenly sarcastic sense of humor. The success of Why?’s last album, Alopecia
, was absolutely contingent on his white Jew faux-gangsta persona, for behind it, Yoni could drop rhymes about sexual addiction and inherited ethnic phobias as glibly as if they were bitches and hos. His insecurities made the album fascinating yet it seemed he always had his shit
together; when self confidence faltered, he could escape in his music, dressing up his anxiety in a skirt that would always please, always get attention, even at the expense of respect. But on Eskimo Snow
, the irony’s gone. Yoni’s cheeky humor is replaced with half-sincerity, his beats substituted for balladry, and the results are strangely uncomfortable.
Recorded at the same time as Alopecia
, Eskimo Snow
is being pushed as Why?’s “serious album,” and while that’s a fairly accurate description, it doesn’t bode well for a band so dependent on its humor. Like watching a funnyman do serious drama, Eskimo Snow
quite simply does not sit right. This would hold true for even the virgin Why? listener; Yoni’s notoriously unprofessional voice does not suit pianos and harmonies so much as it does car stereos and friends with ironic senses of humor. Constantly, Wolf uses quirky lyrics to set up lukewarm punchlines, but the oddly generic-indie-rock aesthetic on Eskimo Snow
makes it seem like Yoni wants to be taken seriously.
Toeing this line, his voice lends itself less to honest poignancy and more to embarrassing parody. On “Even the Good Wood Gone,” Yoni delivers a stream of masturbation and penis jokes, but unlike on Alopecia
’s “Good Friday,” he’s really just making masturbation and penis jokes. Under the veil of maturity that lies over the entire record, it feels flat and insincere. No one can fault Why? for wanting to grow up, but Eskimo Snow
listens like they don't know if they really want to or not. The first half of this album embodies this quandary perfectly, because for every great deep and introspective tune Yoni pens, there’s a poor one too. It makes Eskimo Snow
maddening. While the first half closes with “Into the Shadows of My Embrace,” one of the act’s strongest songs to date, the preceding section of the album’s a mess, constantly fighting between its desire to be smart indie rock and to be kooky.
The second half of the album is much more consistent if you still feel like listening, but beyond a spare moment or two (“This Blackest Purse” is surprisingly touching), most of Eskimo Snow
is easily surpassed by other songs from Why?’s catalogue. About half of Alopecia
did the melodic introspection thing much better, and the sound of Elephant Eyelash
is almost too far removed from this to be compared. What’s emerged on Eskimo Snow
is a band unsure of itself, half wishing to be taken seriously, half wishing to hide behind its sarcasm, but always, always but held back by the limitations of Wolf’s skill as a song writer. Sometimes Eskimo Snow
is fitting of Why?’s name, for when Wolf puts down the recycled gag lines, his introspection goes beyond his usual snide deflection and into snide pondering of existence. On “This Blackest Purse,” he uses his distinct voice to sound honest, begging “Mom, am I failing or worse?” It’s a beautiful moment on Eskimo Snow
, one of the few things from this hodgepodge that actually sticks. But in terms of this album, the answer to his question is: Yes, it is a failure. But it could be worse.