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Why? - oaklandazulasylum

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Artist: Why?

Album: oaklandazulasylum

Label: Anticon

Review date: Jul. 21, 2003


Why?’s new album reads like a sea of ‘c’s: careening, crooning, campy, caustic, crazy. Crazy, per usual for Why?, in its refusal to accept categorization, in its whispered observations, in its melodic madness. oaklandazulasylum is the title, scrawled like a skywritten banner across the cover, halfway between reaching the quiet of holding your breath underwater (see: rippley blue cover photo) and the “almost anything look[ing] cinematic,” 1:48 into the opening cut. It follows that if the ocean reflects the sky, or vice-versa, then both of these definitions can coexist.

But then, definitions are dangerous to wield in this sort of game. It ain’t entirely comfortable. And if it is, you’re listening wrong. Indie-hop? Hip-rock? Does it matter? The man himself feels more rock star than emcee: “I’m an unattractive man, but I’ve got a ring on my right hand cause I’m a singer in a rock and roll band. It sounds pathetic but to tell the truth I don’t regret it.” But you can make the call, or not, as you see fit.

And whatever section of the record store you want to file Why? in (or all of anticon for that matter), it cannot be denied that he’s making some damn wonderful music. His melodies hang in the air, homespun like Saturday afternoon arts and crafts, creating a lush foreground that contrasts something lovely with his minimalist production. This latest holds to that formula, and improves upon it. The songs are simple and unpretentious. The lyrics are still in the vein of his particular near-absurdist fragmentism: “Do your pets prefer electric light? Do they lay awake at night, contemplating Thomas Edison, or listening to AM radio? Texas has nothing to do with you… But tonight I could accusingly connect you to the Lone Star State in five easy steps…” So would go the entire lyric sheet to “Dirty Glass,” the most ingenious song Why? has released since the split EP with Nosdam. It’s a simultaneously hilarious and fascinating collage of pet sounds, from woofs to meows, tinny snares and Casio keystrokes, backed by warm tones and Why?’s most engaging melody to date.

Later, “Shirtless, Sheetless, and” the album continues to elucidate itself: “You said I’d be the one you remembered as self-obsessed. Cause every fucking word I tell you is really self-addressed.” I think that’s the key to all this. These anticonites are living strange versions of their own dreams in Oakland – Alias pens moody reflections like newspaper articles or open windows; Sole claws and spits reams upon reams of epic poems that sound like speeches; Dose twists the reality of it all into madness, into vaudeville, into the greatest show on earth. Etcetera. Why?: He’s just talking to himself, and letting us all play the voyeur. “I just been trying to keep my cool in the oaklandazulasylum.” Rinse and repeat.

To step back briefly, it is worth pointing out that Why?’s music will never appeal to the majority of people in the world. It is too weird, too dissonant, too challenging. Unless something changes drastically between now and the next release, that will always be the case. But for people that hang out in the strange-sounding border towns between genres, his music reflects certain inconsistencies in the world perfectly; like the sun bouncing off the Bay, the way it refracts the marina into a pointillist scene, Why? sings his life as tiny points of color and splash. And if the aesthetic rings true for you, it fucking rocks. Word up.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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