ecent Anticon history finds these once-strident avant hip-hop heads straying from their stated purpose of providing an antidote to mainstream rap. Foregoing the stoned-with-a-sampler shenanigans of years past, some of the boys have gone all conventional on us and formed functioning bands, the kind that rehearse and tour like real grownups; “I heard that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars,” indeed. Thus, the artist formerly known as Why? (aka Yoni Wolf, one third of cLOUDDEAD and one half of Hymie’s Basement) has expanded his once-singular moniker to incorporate three others, including his brother Josiah on drums. Along these lines, Wolf has stated in interviews his desire to move beyond the somewhat distant wordplay of his previous work toward more sincere expression, touching on topics like heartbreak and death (he’s also mentioned catching up on Death Cab for Cutie, Interpol, and the like, finding them “pretty fucking good”).
You can probably see where this is headed—Elephant Eyelash is Anticon gone indie-pop, tangled words and mangled syntax splayed over jangled guitars, all wrangled into nuggets of verse-chorus-verse. Maybe it’s just me, exhausted by indie tropes and still finding other Anticon-related projects so much more satisfying (Boom Bip and Doseone’s Circle, the cLOUDDEAD albums, 13 + God), but the move toward more “direct” forms of expression removes the element of surprise that makes these other releases so compelling. I’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands, of songs about relationships and dead relatives, and quite frankly, I’d rather be dead myself than hear another one accompanied by a sad-sack piano melody.
It’s not that change is bad, but Wolf is moving into areas already well covered and away from ideas that beg for more exploration. The anything-goes sound collage aesthetic of 2003’s oaklandazulasylum made it an engaging adventure, all the more charming for its faults. Some found it scattered, but to my ears the variety of the material meant that lackluster moments were easily absorbed into the rough-edged jumble that made up the whole. Elephant Eyelash is a much more concerted effort, its experimental gestures trimmed back to mere flourishes. The end result is like your friend who’s been having personal issues showing up at your door with red-ringed eyes; it doesn’t matter if they’re wearing a plain button-down shirt or a rainbow-colored chicken costume, you know the tears are coming, and that damn mopey piano will be playing in the background.
Not to bash someone’s heartfelt expression, but the decision to adopt traditional song structures, instrumentation, and most of all, vocal styles, does not play into Wolf’s strengths. His unorthodox delivery and verbose lyrical tumult complemented the gnarled, abstract soundscapes of cLOUDDEAD, and in the moments where this approach is tempered with his newly favored pop sensibilities, Elephant Eyelash shines. Unfortunately, that’s usually when Wolf starts singing, and his nasal croon lacks the power to pull off lines like “I don’t want to dance with your shadow no more.”
Most unsettling, however, is the implication that sincerely conveying emotion and being sincere somehow requires falling back on readymade formulas—there’s nothing that says Wolf couldn’t have explored weightier subjects in a less conventional fashion. The album closes with a repeated guitar figure slowly fading into appreciative applause. The imagined crowd agrees: let comfortable clichés wash over us when the going gets rough, let’s have timpani rumbles, guitar “bursts,” and piano twinkling inevitably signify emotion. Let’s take the easy route to making ourselves feel better.
Reviewed by: Ethan White
Reviewed on: 2005-11-09