Asking the hard questions, envisioning the surreal

Little things get big play on Why?’s new album

Keri Carlson

On an overwhelming animal like an elephant, no one notices the small details. No one notices the eyelashes. No one except Yoni Wolf.

Wolf, also a part of the experimental rap group cLOUDDED, is the brainchild of Why?. Though Wolf is associated with indie hip-hop and even records on the loosely hip- hop-based record label Anticon, Why?’s latest album takes root in indie rock.

Behind Wolf, a band plays bouncy Flaming Lips-like psychedelic-pop – lots of jangly guitar and twinkling piano with a couple of layered synthesizers.

Still, “Elephant Eyelash” is far from an average indie-rock band. Wolf retains a unique rhythm structure in his lyrics and tows the line between singing and speaking – often switching between the two in every song.

Most of all, Why?’s uniqueness comes from the vividly surreal scenes Wolf crafts.

“Elephant Eyelash” is not just a trip through a Freudian sex-dream (though that’s some of it). It focuses on sorting through the over-stimulated visual culture.

“It moves slow / like an exercise bike / on an airport walkway,” Wolf sings on “The Hoofs.”

Wolf’s surreal lyrics do not simply warp the world like a Salvador Dalí painting. Instead, they try to slow the pace of time and fully examine a moment or feeling.

When meditating on loss and nostalgia, in true poet fashion, Wolf avoids concrete language and uses a delicate and charming observation to make his point: “All the people who taught me / card tricks are dying / I’ve been trying to steal my grandfather’s / handsome from old photographs.”

There’s no one theme or no specific image that stands out on “Elephant Eyelash.” The album is like looking through a photo album – the only unity is the same photographer.

And Wolf’s true talent comes from his ability to make his audience examine each photo the way he does.

“You can determine where a river once was / just by examining the rocks / your face never forgets a cry / like trace remnants of acid in your spine,” Wolf sings on “Waterfalls.”

If all you see is an elephant, then you’re missing the details that matter.