WHY? and Themselves collaborate on brand new track, “Canada”
MP3 – WHY? and Themselves – “Canada”
With an intertwining history between the two groups, dating back to cLOUDDEAD, it’s no surprise that the members of WHY? and Themselves are still friendly and fans of each other’s work – the two bands went into the studio awhile back to lay down this special collaborative track which features all of the members of both groups and vocals from Doseone and Yoni Wolf. Both bands have amazing new LPs out on Anticon in the coming months – WHY?’s Eskimo Snow and Themselves’ CrownsDown…… enjoy!
A year and a half after releasing the acclaimed Alopecia LP, WHY? returns with their fourth album, Eskimo Snow (out Sept. 22, 2009). The two records are each other’s perfect foil: While last year’s release found Yoni Wolf and the gang delivering a tight set of intricate rhymes, live loops, slurred hooks and acerbic wit, Eskimo Snow offers a sung, sobering take on mortality that unfurls in lush waves of Americana and pop-infused psych-folk. Pre-mixed in Nashville by Lambchop’s Mark Nevers (Silver Jews, Bonnie Prince Billy, Calexico) and worked over by Alopecia engineer Eli Crews, this album is WHY?’s most live-sounding yet – a shadowy and sprawling piece as intimate in subject matter as it is handsome in timbre.
WHY? actually recorded Eskimo Snow at the same time as Alopecia, at Minneapolis’ Third Ear studio, with Fog’s Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson rounding out a live quintet. The vision for two separate albums emerged on a snowed-in night after a hot toddy or two. If Alopecia, however inexplicably, maintains a summery tone, then Eskimo Snow captures the bite and resignation associated with the Midwestern winters that these Cincinnati boys grew up with.
“These Hands” opens the album up rich and with deliberate pacing, Doug matching Yoni word-for-word (you’ll find no vocal overdubs here) and the rhythm section operating under heavy reverb. Vibraphone likewise duets with piano, windy wordless vocals fly around the atmosphere, and wet footsteps soon carry us to “January Twenty Something.” Here, you’re in the room with WHY?, listening to the bass rattle the drums and the drums rattle the vibes. Amid this folksy grandness, the whole crew sings for the chorus, bending their harmony into a gorgeously warped drawl. Next, “Against Me” brings the album’s brightest moment yet: a crescendo of bells that eventually dips into an aural whirlpool while Yoni spins picturesque observations like a countrified Dylan.
Across Eskimo Snow, Yoni weighs his ability to create a legacy against life’s transience. On the luxe, pedal-steel-drenched “Even The Good Wood Gone,” he transposes himself with a mummy in a museum, begging, “No flash photography,” drawing a line from the dubious promise of fame to the brittleness of antiquity. For “Into The Shadows Of My Embrace,” he explores sex and decay while the track vacillates between a live wall-of-sound and spare church organ passages. “One Rose” is gentler, sporting a Western stride and dark piano hits whose echoing blackness mimics Yoni’s wistful poems. Toward the song’s end, the chorus of Alopecia’s “A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under” makes a stormy reprise.
Most impressively, this record presents a band uninhibited, but evermore accomplished at imbuing sound with mood. “On Rose Walk, Insomniac” rolls forth on a tempestuous din, Josiah drumming hard through the chorus, where Yoni’s voice sounds like its running through a Leslie speaker. “Berkeley By Hearseback” comes in so soft, the guitar tones feel like waves of grain next to the splashy cymbals and that Jim James-worthy cowboy croon ricocheting through the background. “This Blackest Purse” weaves a melancholy that shirks dourness for a curious smile. And when the titular song brings the album to a hushed close, Eskimo Snow’s place in the narrative becomes clear. Rather than spit at death or threaten it with suicide, Yoni stops bucking against the inevitable. In the process, the band discovers a rich place that the rest of us can happily live within.
Seven months after the release of theFREEhoudini – the celebrated mixtape that announced Themselves’ return – Doseone and Jel will drop CrownsDown, a careful and vicious exhibition of mastered rap tactics and sampling ethics. Themselves’ third album proper has been gestating in the gut of this seminal group for some time. It’s both a return to form and a honing of what’s come before (Subtle, cLOUDDEAD, Deep Puddle) – both the opus that these lionhearted two were always meant to make, and the album that their hip-hop-obsessed teenaged selves always hoped to hear.
On CrownsDown, Themselves hold back nothing, welding brute skill to a concrete set of tracks that represents an essential ten commandments of rap. In preparation, Doseone and Jel revisited their beloved hip-hop collections (e.g. Gang Starr, Ultramagnetic MCs, Public Enemy, Saafir) and whittled down the recurring themes that made their favorite records so sturdy. Each song on CrownsDown represents one of these archetypes – you’ll find the “don’t bite” song, the diss track, the story rap, the “bootleggers beware” song, and the “don’t fuck with my DJ” jam, among others. In this way, Themselves revisit something classic in order to invent their own future-school entry to the annals.
Naturally, things kick off with “Back II Burn,” a “guess who’s back” track (co-written by Pedestrian) that bangs forth on good ol’ fashioned synth hits and heavy thump. Rugged slow rhymes and fast-rap pile-ons are delivered with equal aplomb, and Jel ramps up the distortion as Dose spits vitriol: “Whether shining or shunned, none and all can come/and get undone by the two in the selves one.” “Oversleeping” follows with a Bomb Squad-style sampler salvo and a whirlwind of rhyme that reference-checks lyrics from both Nas and Subtle. Next up is “The Mark,” wherein Dose cautions would-be style thieves, while borrowing his own cadence from Ultramag-era Kool Keith. Jel deals out break-driven electro bounce and a furious, unprecedented rap verse of his own, while D-Styles mans the cuts.
“Gangster Of Disbelief” finds Dose dropping science (the fourth archetype) in a rich baritone atop eerie production that harks back to his and Jel’s debut. He connects the dots from Sisyphus to Werner Herzog’s writings to his own neuroses and worldview, while “Daxstrong” takes on the spread-love model, paying proper tribute to Subtle founder Dax Pierson, left paraplegic after the sextet’s 2005 tour accident. Bandmates Jordan Dalrymple and Markus Acher (13 & God, The Notwist) join Dose for an end-song sing-along of TVOTR magnitude. The next two tracks respectively take well-aimed shots at false musical prophets and modern-day bootleggers (MP3-traders). “You Ain’t It” features an Auto-tuned guest spot from Dax himself, playing the melodic foil to Dose’s jagged and rapid fire words, while “Roman Is As Roman Does” serves up electronics-damaged boom-bap for a set of X-Clan-inspired raps.
“Skinning The Drum” rains praise on Jel, who responds in kind with a trademark live MPC performance vivifying the old “Apache” and “Cold Sweat” breaks. On “Deadcatclear II,” Dose is uncommonly nude, spinning a real-life narrative about playing caretaker to a stray cat’s corpse as a child, discovering incredulity for God in the severity of death. All of which lays foundation for the crux end of CrownsDown, “Gold Teeth Will Roll.” Here, over surging cutup soul, Dose growls, “Who will come kill me/taking their rings off like women/because I will swear on their weakness,” casting Themselves in the final archetype: righteous defenders of the culture. This sentiment cuts to the core of CrownsDown. In carving out their own classic, Doseone and Jel not only aim to topple those wrongly kinged, but lay down their own sweat-and-blood-made crowns at the feet of the thing they admire most.
09/24 Cincinnati, OH Northside Tavern *
09/26 New York, NY Le Poisson Rouge / Wordless Music Series +
09/30 Milford, CT Daniel Street #%
10/01 Cambridge, MA Middle East #%
10/02 Philadelphia, PA First Unitarian Church #%
10/03 Pittsburgh, PA Assembly Room, William Pitt Union (www.wptsradio.org) FREE SHOW #%
10/04 Ann Arbor, MI The Blind Pig #%
10/05 Chicago, IL Bottom Lounge #%
10/06 Madison, WI UW Madison Terrace #%
10/07 Minneapolis, MN Triple Rock #%
10/09 Denver, CO Bluebird #%
10/10 Salt Lake City, UT In The Venue #%
10/13 Annacortes, WA Department of Safety &$
10/14 Seattle, WA The Vera Project &$
10/15 Portland, OR Wonder Ballroom &$
10/17 San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall *%$
10/18 Santa Barbara, CA Velvet Jones *%$
10/20 Los Angeles, CA Echoplex *%
10/23 Phoenix, AZ Modified Arts *%
10/24 Tucson, AZ Club Congress *%
10/26 Denton, TX Hailey’s *%
10/28 Birmingham, AL Bottletree *%
10/29 Asheville, NC Grey Eagle *%
10/30 Carrboro, NC Cat’s Cradle *%
10/31 Atlanta, GA Lenny’s %^@
11/02 Orlando, FL The Social %!
11/03 Gainesville, FL Common Grounds %!
11/04 Tallahassee, FL Club Down Under %!
11/06 Baton Rouge, LA Spanish Moon %~
11/07 Houston, TX Walter’s On Washington %~
11/08 Austin, TX Fun Fun Fun Fest
11/10 Lawrence, KS Jackpot Music Hall %~
11/11 St. Louis, MO Firebird %~
11/12 Rock Island, IL Daytrotter Session
11/12 Grinnell, IA Gardner Lounge %~
11/13 Bloomington, IN Rhino’s Youth Center ~
* = w/ Serengeti and Polyphonic
# = w/ Dark Dark Dark
% = w/ AU
& = w/ No Kids
$ = w/ Mount Eerie
^ = w/ Jemina Pearl
@ = w/ Islands
! = w/ James Husband
~ = w/ The Moore Brothers
+ = w/ Owen Weaver with Flexible Music