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WHY?: This Blackest Purse

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WHY?A year and a half after releasing the acclaimed Alopecia LP, WHY? returns with their fourth album, Eskimo Snow. 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.

Across Eskimo Snow, Yoni weighs his ability to create a legacy against life’s transience. “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. [ioda]

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