Jangle-rap? Pop 'n' roll? Rock-hop? Whatever the label, Oakland's Why?, the delightfully subversive trio led by Yoni Wolf, raises the bar for innovation yet again with Alopecia. The follow-up to 2005's Elephant Eyelash, it finds Wolf and company (joined this time around by Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson of Fog) armed with a new batch of bombastic verses delivered in a deft, unclassifiable style that's half rap and half ramshackle singsong.
Informed as much by Dizzee Rascal and Madvillain as John Darnielle and the Silver Jews (cleverly name-checked on "Good Friday"), the result is much more than a remarkable display of vocal acrobatics and stylistic excursions: It's also a sophisticated chronicle of life's lows, disturbingly bleak and dominated by self-doubt. "The Vowels Pt. 2" is obsessed with violent death; "Good Friday" describes youthful prostitution and objectification; and "Twenty-Eight," though ostensibly a love song ("You're the only proper noun I need," Wolf professes), quickly turns morbid.
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Wolf, the son of a rabbi, cut his teeth on a four-track commandeered from the family's synagogue, and the experimentation that's flowered ever since still drives him. But it's his lyrics, brutally honest and often desperate, that elevate Alopecia from curiosity to conquest.