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October 2009
Why?
"Eskimo Snow
"
mp3

Every new Why? record seems to bring with it a new aesthetic or theme, and Eskimo Snow is no different. Recorded during the same sessions that produced 2008’s Alopecia, Eskimo Snow finds Why? recording songs as a five piece band with Fog’s Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson accompanying the usual trio.

At its most obvious level, Eskimo Snow is a continuation of the modern indie take on classic pop music, shifting Why?’s comparisons more towards Grizzly Bear or Animal Collective than any indie hip-hop band. However, there is an almost intangible something that differentiates Why?’s new record from Veckamist or Merriweather Post Pavilion. Frontman Yoni Wolf has been quoted as saying “This record is really the least hip-hop out of anything I've ever been involved with (Pitchfork Interview, May 2009)" which may be true, but it is Why?’s hip-hop music background/history/influence that makes Eskimo Snow a very unique album. There is a preciseness in the execution of these 10 songs that is completely enthralling. Why? has evolved beyond the looping and sampling of their earlier albums without losing what made albums like Elephant Eyelash and Oaklandazulasylum so cool.

There is a playfulness to the music and lyrics that at times can even make you laugh out loud, but through all this Why? is always in control and can jump into a beautiful crescendo and back with flawless ease. Lyrics like “They say sex will keep you young and make you older at the same time/They say sex will have left you aged normally/So I guess it’s sort of like smoking and walking at the same time/In that it will have left you aged normally” act as the eventual chorus to a song that starts out like their version of a Motown riff. “Berkeley by Hearseback” goes from a rhythmic driving vibraphone beat to a country rap and back, twice! Yoni's creative lyrics and intriguing delivery have only gotten better since beginning Why?, continuing to find a way to keep you chuckling to yourself and scratching your head. Why? has made an honestly unique album that is really a lot of fun to listen to.

-Glenn Jackson

 

September 2009
Railcars:
"Cathedral With No Eyes
"
mp3

Like a boulder dropping into still water, railcars have once again unleashed upon our ears an exquisite assault of schizophrenic digital noise-music awash with rich delicate chaotic texture amidst a foundation of melodic synth lines. It seems it’s been a minute since we’ve heard from them after their last EP and the recent announcement of Aria’s exodus from San Francisco for Southern California’s sunshine and smog, but Cathedral with No Eyes is certainly a welcome sophomore album and functions as a wonderful continuation of the ideas begun in Cities vs. Submarines. Railcars’ music on the one hand can be a hard pill to swallow. It can very easily overwhelm the ear in its swirling kaleidoscopic orgy of sound. What ultimately justifies it however is the driving beats and popish (in its loosest definition) melody lines that serve as the essential glue for the chaos surrounding the song. Without this the music would very likely get lost in it’s own experimentation. Ultimately, it seems the best way to describe their sound then would be sublime noise anchored somewhere within pop melody. Style aside, the album (evidently themed after a 13th century English Saint) opens with the dreamy “Life of Saint Edmund (ponds)” which serves as our entry point into the story (for lack of a better word) of the album. It’s curious to think of what the meaning of Saint Edmund’s life is to Aria Jalali, the driving force behind railcars. Is Saint Edmund his dream? A personification? A body to posses? These questions are brought up listening to this first track as it seems to be lulling the listener into the dream that is the album. It pulls us through the John Malkovich portal into the life and the eyes of Saint Edmund. It is (less the final song which functions in a similar way only in the opposite direction) the least chaotic song on the album and allows you to get comfortable for what is to come. To use a cliched analogy it is the descent down the rabbit hole into the intensity of the rest of Cathedral with No Eyes. The main part of the album continues thematically with the life of Saint Edmund and gets into what railcars ultimately are really good at: exceptionally complex sound. It is very hard to qualify exactly what is going on through the album as each listen provides new undiscovered nuanced sounds. There are so many layers to unravel that each listen, even back-to-back, is a unique experience in one way or another. It does ultimately however take a keen appreciation for the beauty in what can be excruciating noise to really begin unraveling this complexity. Though themed entirely differently it seems pertinent to mention how this album owes much to, or perhaps rather seems to belong in the same grouping as it’s predecessor Cities vs. Submarines. Musically they seem distinctly similar: heavily filtered vocals, erratic digital noise grounded in rhythm and driving synth lines, and rich with complexity. Not to delve too far into the mind of Aria but perhaps there is something in this that suggests Cathedral with No Eyes is the second portion of an over all opus. Does music produced by technology here function as railcar’s time machine (thematically speaking)? If Cities vs. Submarines is an exploration of present, Cathedral with No Eyes dives back into the past, is the (hopefully) forthcoming release looking into future? Could be or perhaps that’s all too pretentious and speculative and deserves at least a gallon of alcohol to justify such a conversation. In the end Cathedral with No Eyes is certainly an album worth the attention it demands of you. It is a delight to listen to from beginning to end and leaves room for all sorts of wild speculation; surly plenty to engender heated drunken discussions. -Ada Lann

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