WHY? – Sod in the Seed EP
Three years on from Eskimo Snow, Yoni Wolf brings his distinguished brand of self-aware indie-hop back with Sod In The Seed. In the last decade Wolf has gone from the surrealist hip-hop experiment cLOUDDEAD to having been established amongst the likes of John Darnielle as one of indie’s most deft lyricists and as having a skillful propensity for insightful storytelling. With that recognition has come modest success for Wolf and in the EP’s title track Yoni launches straight into the grievances that come with this. The most noticeable difference between the opener and Eskimo Snow is Yoni embrace of rapping verses again. The content of the lyrics, however, whilst still being delivered with the same impressive poeticness now holds an arrogance that make it more difficult for those familiar with WHY?’s previous work to empathise with Wolf’s “first world curse”. Regardless, Yoni’s forcefulness and ability to write a hook means that ‘Sod in the Seed’ as a track is still ultimately very listenable.
Despite a slight change in personnel in the band from the Eskimo Snow-era, there is a continuation of the band’s more straightforward indie leanings rather than Alopecia and Elephant Eyelash’s patent hip-hop influences. Whilst undoubtedly Wolf’s lyricism is the main selling point for the band, and this continues to be ubiquitous in Sod in the Seed, the self-deprecation is backed with upbeat piano and xylophone melodies. This worked effectively to an extent in Eskimo Snow but lack of progression in this front, especially after an extended period of three years, leaves the likes of ‘For Someone’ and ‘The Plan’ feeling sonically lacklustre. This, in combination with a relative absence of the high-calibre one-liners and quips synonymous with Wolf, means that the two tracks don’t make any sort of impact. Two mediocre tracks within an album is perhaps permissible, Eskimo Snow certainly had at least this many, but when it’s a 15 minute EP and takes up a third of the release then the listener can’t help but feel underwhelmed.
The next two tracks, ‘Probable Cause’ and ‘Twenty Seven’ both clock in at under two minutes. The former a pleasant intermission with a melody line like something you would hear in a ‘Monkey Island’ soundtrack and a characteristically humourous anecdote in which Yoni pokes fun at the reaction of others to the supposed tedium of his life. The latter is perhaps a reference to Alopecia’s ‘Twenty Eight’ but the track instead displays the imagery painted by Wolf in his more surrealist pre-WHY? work. These tracks serve as a build up to the EP’s highlight ‘Shag Carpet’ which provides a refreshing return to the sound explored in Alopecia with Wolf in the fully-fledged rapper mode that was touched upon in the EP’s opener. Decrying the sexual and hedonistic misgivings that he regrets continuing into his 30s, this is the Yoni Wolf that many still feel an affinity with and perhaps the seemingly uncharacteristic arrogance seen in the EP opener was simply a previously unheard manifestation of Wolf’s still-present vulnerability.
Sod in the Seed is not a keystone WHY? release. The EP shows that Wolf is still as insecure as ever and deserving of the listeners empathy. However, the shift in thematic content, as well as musically, whilst still eschewing comparisons to anyone else, taking a vaguely more conventional route, means that it will be unlikely to hold the staying power in the hearts of listeners as the first three albums have. For new listeners perhaps this is an accessible introduction to the twisted world of WHY? but seasoned listeners will hope that Wolf and his band will step it up a level for the forthcoming album.