Music News

Why? Gets Wonderfully Uncomfortable

It's always fun when an band records an official anthem, offering a rare peek as to how artists perceive themselves: The Clash stormed with "This Is Radio Clash," Iron Maiden illustrated its historical themes with "Iron Maiden," and the Ramones borrowed Motörhead's lovable bonehead anthem "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." It's a stretch, but nonetheless tempting to hear "Sod in the Seed," from art-pop outfit Why?'s EP of the same name, as that sort of thing — not quite a mission statement but still a remarkable act of self-identification.

"A complicated man is misunderstood / Even to himself," Jonathan "Yoni" Wolf rap-yelps on the opening track, summarizing, "I'll never shirk this First World curse."

The record spends the rest of its time over-sharing to gleeful degrees. Wolf spits missives like scrawled notes on the Whole Foods bulletin board he raps about. Volkswagen's Karmann Ghia, Zooey Deschanel, bagels and blank stares, farmers markets, baby teeth, parkas from Marshall's — all make appearances on the brief, six-song dispatch. It would sound like self-obsessed, self-lacerating therapy sessions if it didn't sound so fun, with Wolf's uniquely nerdy voice bouncing and weaving up from underneath layers of whistling folk, mutated reggae, and the sort of disorienting art-rap/electronica that has made his label, Anticon, the go-to source for outsider (post?) hip-hop from the likes of S / S / S (Serengeti, Sufjan Stevens, and Son Lux), Isaiah Toothtaker, Tobacco, and more.

Wolf seems disgusted with himself on Sod in the Seed, willing to call himself out like he's battle-rapping his own id, ego, and super-ego, but it's hard not to identify with the kind of young adult self-loathing exhibited during his breathless verses. "You'd never guess, but in this form I'm a mess," he sings in "Shag Carpet," before launching into an assault on himself: "I preach peace and poor from the pulpit, but at home it's Jack Kennedy sheets and shag carpet . . . like an old yoga yuppie, I check in at Krogers in a gold pullover toga, like 'fuck it.'"

Call it the "Conan O'Brien approach": Wolf spends so much time mocking himself that when he turns his attention to "publicists" and "hundred bucks' worth of wordy blogger thugs" it stings — but not the way it would coming from someone who doesn't refer to himself as a "blundering braggart" a few lines later.

The only time Sod in the Seed starts to feel too much is in the latter verses of "Shag Carpet," where Wolf describes in creeping detail his sexual desperation, then promises the object of his wiles that's he's going to go through her purse when she "finally falls asleep." But you can't fault Wolf's honesty — and most likely his comedic/dramatic exaggeration — because on Why? records he's playing a character as much as anything. It doesn't cast the blunt honesty in doubtful light so much as it explains the idea here that we're all ugly, and that we can confront the fact (provided there's something catchy to bob our heads to as we stare it down).

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.