Monday, February 06, 2006


Why?'s Elephant Eyelash was one of the best albums of 2005. Too bad we only got around to realizing that in 2006.

Elephant Eyelash

One of the first things you learn in social work school is to never pose a question to a client starting with the word “why.” According to Susan Lukas, author of Where To Start And What To Ask: An Assessment Handbook, “why” is a confrontational word, an antagonistic word that seeks accountability. So it’s telling that Yoni Wolf, a Berkley, California eccentric chose Why? (complete with the question mark) as his moniker because, essentially, Yoni and his music is one big, collective question posed at the apathy of the indie rock scene. And with every record that Wolf releases, we get closer and closer to a satisfying answer.

“It’s a profound word,” Wolf tells me. “At once, “why” asks all the questions that remain unanswered but it also reveals to everyone how little the asker knows.” The 27-year-old Cincinnati, Ohio native is amicable, thoughtful and flattering (he compliments me on a story he read of mine in another magazine, even calling it “inspiring”) His speech is like that of a suburban skateboarder using words like, “dope,” “yo,” “and "stoked” all throughout our multiple conversations. In fact, during our last discussion, Wolf discloses that he is currently in the state of stoked-ness. Both the freethinking Wolf and his band have just been asked to tour as the opening act for the Silver Jews, one of his favorite groups, on their upcoming, limited tour. “I’ve always been a big Dave Berman (head Silver Jew) fan,” Wolf reveals. “In fact, I sent him one of my albums a while back—I wanted to put my music on his radar—and weeks later, I got a postcard back that read, “I like your music. Thanks for sending it.” I mean, I assume it was from Berman because it wasn’t signed by anyone.”

Wolf’s newest masterpiece Elephant Eyelash (Anticon) is heartwarming and unusual, trying it’s hardest to defy categorization or genre identifying. The second record is an artful, Dada-influenced sound collage, simultaneously embracing simple pop sensibilities while giving conventional song structure a middle finger. Moreover, his distinct, nasal voice is quirky and vulnerable perfectly complimenting the songs that straddle both the accessible and the absurd. And although, his music is aurally appealing, many gravitate to Wolf’s challenging lyrics, which are part-head scratches, part brilliant poetry. “You act like a slut, but you’re really a freezer/We love and hate like the tattooed fists,” or “unfold an origami death mask and cut my DNA with rubber traits/ Pull apart the double helix like a wishbone.” The latter line comes from his current single “Rubber Trait,” which, believe it or not, is a hit in Latin America. “That doesn’t really make sense to me but it’s totally cool,” says Wolf. But when it comes to considering Why?’s music, logic shouldn’t even be involved.

When we talk about his upbringing, Wolf’s uniqueness finally makes more sense. Growing up in the house of a Messianic Jewish rabbi, Wolf spent his youth listening to religious music like Stryper, “I was always an outcast to someone. I wasn’t really Christian, nor was I really Jewish. I was somewhere in-between.” Despite the religious environment of his youth, the defiant Wolf has since given up on his own religious observances. “I will always respect religion because it inspires people to do great things but I realized that it wasn’t for me. I get my inspiration from other sources.” Just add religion to the list of things that Yoni Wolf has challenged.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this elephant beat your #1 album of 2005, by Alligator? Does Elephant kill the Alligator?

12:02 PM  

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