Yoni Wolf isn’t exactly what you’d call a singer. While he’s not exactly rapping (which is only sort of what goes on in cLOUDDEAD), his singing still retains a jerky, overenunciated B-Boy inflection to it. At least it does in “Crushed Bones,” the leadoff track to his latest album under the Why? name, Elephant Eyelash. The song begins with an “ungh,” and then a “what” before Wolf lets loose his lyrical flow over a pretty, folky acoustic guitar track. Lines like “Navy blue hoodies and khakis/that was the style then” and “your eyes are just slits in bags of fat” seem more apt, particularly due to Wolf’s pronunciation, on a hip-hop song. And yet, that’s not what it is.
Okay, so the rest of the album finds Wolf singing melodically. Still, his voice is quirky, often drawing comparisons to They Might Be Giants. I can’t say that I don’t hear it, but I also feel inclined to add Mike Doughty, as both “singers” deliver verse in a jerky, chanting, hip-hop influenced manner. Wolf, basically, doesn’t draw easy comparisons to any artist’s singing style, as even the ones mentioned above are a bit slanted.
However you choose to describe or classify Yoni Wolf’s voice, it’s unique and it’s endearing, particularly in the context of the music, which is consistently colorful and strange. The names Pavement and Neutral Milk Hotel have been dropped, which make for the bare minimum of reference points. Truth is, Why? is consistently playing genre leapfrog, touching down upon one and pogoing toward another. “The Hoofs” does find a common ground with the Elephant Six collective’s most whimsical acts (Of Montreal, Elf Power), ending with a Successories reference: “a picture of an Asian mountain/that says `patience’ in some funky italics.”
More psychedelia abounds on “Fall Saddles,” while “Gemini (Birthday Song)” finds a muse in Crooked Fingers’ Waits-and-Springsteen pastiche. Wolf tweaks out his vocals on “Waterfalls,” changing a relatively pretty ballad into weirdness of the utmost Anticon variety. But it makes perfect sense that “Sanddollars” was the first single, marrying Pavement-style (yeah, I said it) indie pop to David Bowie-like dramatic heights. It’s catchy, but still retaining enough artiness and goofball sensibilities to leave Why?’s stamp.
Why? makes a strong case for fucking up pop music on Elephant Eyelash. It tends to work most of the time, and even if this record isn’t an A+ all the way, it’s not for lack of effort. Though Wolf may not always be “singing,” so to speak, he consistently makes for a charismatic and animated frontman.
Elf Power – A Dream In Sound
Reaching Quiet – In the Shadow of the Living Room
Clue to Kalo – One Way, It’s Every Way
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.