Pre-Screening: Why?

Album: Eskimo Snow
Artist: Why?
Label: Anticon
Due Out: September 22nd

Whenever a phrase like "they don't have a genre" gets thrown about, I tend to look away. I'd like you to try not to here. Why?'s new release, Eskimo Snow, may fit into a genre (indie rock) better than their other releases, but that doesn't mean they're any closer to being pigeon-holed. On the contrary, a little conformity here and there is just the type of misdirection an artist like them would employ, in the hopes of getting you off the trail. And that's what Eskimo Snow essentially is. Misdirection, in the purest sense. A wandering, aimless bouquet of sounds which you can only truly admire as a total composition.

"These Hands" starts us off lightly, treading cautiously and mixing a sense of somber reality with witty sarcasm. Don't fall into the trap of ever taking their lyrics seriously, because that would be to miss the point of the much greater picture, the music in the background. "January Twenty Something" further drives home this central feature of Eskimo Snow, and the band as a whole, ringing in bright, and nearly letting the bottom fall out. Then, unsurprisingly, it pops right back up, shifting between two polarities of a piano ballad and an Islands-esque refrain about love. Next, "Against Me" actually follows a more straightforward path. The song meanders for an extended period of time, as to catch you off guard later on. But, eventually, the terms of internal struggle kick in with a strong sense of resentment. It's not so much depressing, as it evokes empathy from the listener, quite effectively to be honest.

"Even the Good Wood Gone" continues our melancholy vibe, as a strumming, folksy guitar melody moves fluidly through the backdrop of more downtrodden observations about the surrounding landscape. As much as the piece builds throughout though, it expertly holds back, stopping the song each time before that critical breaking point. They string us along in limbo, sentenced to put some thought into what's occurring in the narrator's world, and we listen, intently. "Into the Shadows of My Embrace," probably the most Nick Thorburn-esque song of an album chock-full of them, glides and dances to an offbeat, yet catchy xylophone. The track is bleeding pop sensibilities, and is only held back from superstardom by the various slowed-down sections (not a bad thing). That, and the nonsensical, albeit infectious bridge (complete with guitar solo) at the end, propel it out in front as an early candidate to be named the album's best work. From pop, the band moves swiftly towards folk, however, as the lonesome "One Rose" is as cold and unforgiving as the name suggests. Still, it's not without a personality. Just a teasing, timid one.

"On Rose Walk, Insomniac," which sets up a confusing name game with the song before it, is actually nothing like it's predecessor. Psychadelic, short and odd, the lyrics jump, schizophrenically between different, unrelated ideas in an effective jumble of thoughts and emotions. Changing drastically once again, "Berkeley By Hearseback" waxes poetic on a folksy, lonely hearts jam, getting by on a rock ballad piano part snatched right out of the 1980s. Still, in between these genre mashups is an ambient world of scenic, forlorn loss; a howling, empty graveyard set in the middle of a musical, if you will. Transitioning from that, "This Blackest Purse" is the album's definitive piano ballad, sticking straight to the plan from start to finish. If I didn't know any better, I'd claim it to be the last track, but since I know better, it is, instead, the collection's most honest, sympathetic and beautiful work. It's dramatic, appropriate and even hits a nerve or two if you listen close enough. Then, it finally closes out for real, with the almost-as-appropriate title track, "Eskimo Snow." If not for "This Blackest Purse," perhaps "Eskimo Snow" would go down as the album's most sentimental piece, but instead, it just seems dwarfed by the five-minute epic which precedes it.

With Eskimo Snow, Why? turns in the type of effort you'd expect from them-- unpredictable, moody and conflicted. Still, with all of that going on, there's also an active, and at times, pleasant background which should not be ignored. Eskimo Snow is not a happy, nor a sad album, but rather, it floats in between the two. It's very aware of itself, and the message it portrays, which allows it to pull back from ever committing too much to one or the other. My only critique? Maybe one slow track to end it, instead of two, as resounding as "This Blackest Purse" ends up being. Besides that, a fine effort by a band who's always expected to mix things up, and usually delivers in grand fashion. Similarities include the aforementioned Islands, Subtle and Born Ruffians.

Rating: 8.0/10