WHY?: Elephant Eyelash

Though Elephant Eyelash reprises only one song from Yoni Wolf's recent WHY? EP Sanddollars, the full-length doesn't stray from the mercurial geek-pop style the EP initiated, just extends it into eleven more songs. As before, the cLOUDDEAD alumnus seems more interested in channeling Smile than Anticon hip-hop in songs that stylistically recall Frank Zappa as much as they do Brian Wilson, and again the material is performed by Wolf on a variety of instruments (piano, keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, harmonica) assisted by brother Josiah on drums, guitarist Matt Meldon, and 'utility man' Doug McDiarmid (pianos, guitars, samplers, and turntables).

The album opener “Crushed Bones” begins in a folktronic vein, though like most of the material it never stays in one place for too long; in this case, the song quickly morphs into declamatory noise-pop with Wolf donning a quasi-MC guise for a verbal throwdown. “Yo Yo Bye Bye” alternates between piano-driven electronic balladry and detonating guitar crunch, while the slow-building, anthemic closer “Light Leaves” underlays Wolf's vocals and guitars with Tuvan throat-singing and ritual drum patterns. Though “Gemini (Birthday Song)” aims to be the album 'epic,' it's bested by the synth-heavy, guitar-driven intricacies of “Rubber Traits” and the ornate, classically-tinged arrangement in “The Hoofs.”

At times, there seems to be a bit too much going on in a single song (“Full Saddles”) and Wolf's nasal tone can be distracting, especially when there's little attempt to conceal its croak (“Speech Bubbles”). Furthermore, the sound quality is often rough, even muddy, which renders lyrics in “Gemini (Birthday Song),” for example, all but intelligible. At the same time, that roughness means that the album never gets so polished that it loses energy, and at 41 minutes the running time is just about right for music of such density. If Wolf doesn't quite succeed at creating the perfect three-minute pop song on Elephant Eyelash, his effort is certainly valiant enough.

October 2005