WHY? is a trio of handsome Cincinnati-born men who fiddle with skins, strings, bells and microphones and present their findings to the listening public. Singer Yoni Wolf grew up the second son to an art book editor and a rabbi. He got his start recording bad poems and sloppy beats on the family synagogue's 4-track. In junior high he discovered hip-hop. At art school, he learned how to drop out. Yoni's brother Josiah played drums at Rabbi Wolf's worship service as a kid, became a band geek as a teen, and fell in love with Thelonious Monk on his way to study music at University of Cincinnati. Doug McDiarmid would eventually get expelled from that same school for carrying a stun gun, but first he was raised by two French teachers and taught piano while in kindergarten. He also went to high school with the Wolfs, where he played in Steve Miller cover bands.
In various permutations together and with other now-notables (i.e. Doseone, Odd Nosdam, Mr. Dibbs, Atmosphere's Slug), these three created and/or contributed to several freewheeling rap and lo-fi rock-related projects including Greenthink, Miss Ohio's Nameless, Reaching Quiet, and the seminal cLOUDDEAD outfit. Their wildest dreams were achieved when they relocated to Oakland to make pop-inflected psychedelic folk-hop.
For four years, two EPs and 2003's cult classic LP, Oaklandazulasylum, WHY? comprised Yoni Wolf alone. He honed his trademark delivery – a sickly sweet, half-rapped, singsong style – shined up his wry, picturesque poetry, and developed a clip-and-collage aesthetic using keyboards, toys, guitars, samplers and anything worth banging on. When Doug and Josiah moved west to join Yoni, they brought with them a hoard of instruments and the ability to wail on every last one. By chops and imagination, WHY? grew into a thing of flesh, bones and fully fledged songs, resulting in 2005's Elephant Eyelash album. Critics swooned; ladies lauded; WHY? neither resisted nor rested. They toured – with Silver Jews, Yo La Tengo, and Islands. They collaborated – with Danielson Family, Department Of Eagles, and Subtle (Yoni also recorded with Fog's Andrew Broder as "Hymie's Basement"). They put out yet more
The brand new album Eskimo Snow is something of a companion piece to last year's celebrated Alopecia LP. In February of 2007, the WHY? trio temporarily relocated to Minneapolis and officially inducted Fog players Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson. Recording live as a five-piece, WHY? created two distinct albums from those sessions:
Alopecia, with its taut rhythms and biting wit, and Eskimo Snow, a shadowy and sprawling set that finds Yoni resigned to and ever-awed by those infinite erring bits of existence that make WHY? what it is.
Adventure Time is (was? pretty sure "was" is more appropo) Frosty and Daedelus; I'm not sure what Frosty was up to, but Dae turned out to be a total beat strangler, releasing record after record packed with sampledelic instrumental bliss-bliss. My fave is Of Snowdonia (will somebody put that out on vinyl, please GOD!?!?) …
Back to Adventure Time: They put out, that I know of, one spectacular album called Dreams of Water Themes, two 7-inches that are likely hard to find (guess it's time to do some Gumshoe-in') and the "Glass Bottom Boat" 12-inch, which I was thrilled to encounter — and subsequently cozy up to — in Austin recently.
This five-cut mini-LP offers a glimpse of the glee of Water Themes but not the mind-empowering OOF! Plus there's a guest spot from Ellay Khule that hasn't aged well; not well at all. (Remember when indie-rap was all the rage and a ton of boring couplet-tossers like Living Legends and Jurassic 5 were everywhere? That's what "Whetting Whistles with Pigeon John" reminds me of with its bravadocious beat and bodacious low end. Not what I came to the Adventure Time party to hear … )
Much like Antipop Consortium records, with "Glass Bottom Boats" you have to skim the surface a bit for the creamiest bits, like beef from tallow (or something; not much of a tallow enthusiast). I just mentioned how there was a glut of standard-ass indie-rap, right? Well there also was a glut of instrumental hip-hop bands back then (2003-2005), and luckily it was of higher cloth, outfits like Alias, Blockhead, personal fave Odd Nosdam, Nobody, Deceptikon (which was a pretty rad group), RJD2 — don't try to tell me he's an "electronic" musician; I don't buy it — setting a standard that proved to be tough to follow (though I guess you could say Flying Lotus did a good job of futurizing it, along with Daedelus and a select-few others).
I can only imagine what Adventure Time might have accomplished had they kept at it. They took gloomy jazz samples and put them in a context that not only rebooted my sense of what good music could be at the time, but extended the root works into better environs than they originally existed in. It was fascinating, and the cover art to their albums — watery, squishy, eternally aqua-blue, cartoonish, etc. — is a perfect example of the Album As Art ethos in full effect. None of Daedelus' subsequent records look this good, playa!
Only on Side B does the Adventure Time duo set things right. Quick-skippin' "Crazy, Crazy Like a Fox" is vintage AT (though it is in fact a remix of a Shakeyface song), setting a head-nodding tempo from the giggety get-go and dosing the listening with a kaleidescopic array of sax flutters and doubled-up xylophone sprinkles (at least I hope they're double-tracked).
"Basil Bossy Never" is one of the brand new tracks on here and it's middling yet intriguing with its Cuban piano overtones and stuttering drums. Daedelus leaned heavliy on this track for one of the cuts from Snowdonia, that's fo' sho'. Another disappointment, WHAT'LL I DO? WHAT'LL I DOOOOO?
"Whetting Whistles" (Nobody remix) is another curious mix, teeming with elements that just don't interest the ear and more of those big-city bass lines that don't match up with my high expectations for Adventure Time, even if it is a Nobody remix.
When Shaun Koplow moved to the Bay Area to study art at UC Berkeley in 2001, he had no idea he'd wind up running his favorite record label, or that he'd eventually relocate its operations to Los Angeles, the city from whence he came. Four years ago, at the age of 23, Koplow became Anticon Records' label manager the chief wheel-greaser charged with vetting new talent, developing established acts, conceiving record campaigns and handling the day-to-day. Having come up amongst a crew of West L.A. backpacker kids, Koplow was a longtime devotee of California's outsider rap scene, a movement that saw Anticon at its forefront in the late '90s. He's since made it his mission to preserve that commitment to innovation, artistic license and all-around quality while pushing the label's genre-bending tendencies yet further, helping to bring artists like Baths, Tobacco, Son Lux, Bike For Three!, and Anathallo into the fold alongside Anticon mainstays like WHY?, Themselves, Odd Nosdam and Dosh. Koplow views his role at the label as curatorial, a philosophy that can be witnessed literally when he's DJing under the handle Sodapop, or co-hosting Silver Lake's weekly Calling All Kids night with partner Matthewdavid (Dublab, Alpha Pup, Leaving Records). The pair's duties for C.A.K. are head-to-toe they're promoters, organizers, song-selectors, and even bartenders and Koplow's vinyl/Serato sets consistently display an ear for the adventurous: favoring vintage krautrock, contemporary electronic pop and Bay Area rap. C.A.K.'s history of guests is equally diverse: Nite Jewel, Dm-Funk, Lucky Dragons, Flying Lotus, and Ariel Pink, to name a few. Both Koplow and Anticon have been based in L.A. since early 2008. The former creates visual art occasionally and nurses a strong fetish for rare wax, brims and kicks. The latter refuses to be pigeonholed, eternally.
Illinois native David Cohn, a.k.a. multifaceted rapper Serengeti, experienced two distinctly different childhoods growing up. Half of his time was spent in Chicago’s then all-black South Side with his mother — a secretary, atheist, and devout communist. The other half was clocked in the then all-white suburbs of Olympic Fields with his father — a stressed, middle-class business-owner. Though Serengeti is the great nephew of Sonny Cohn, Count Basie’s trumpeter of thirty years, music wasn’t passed down freely in the family. Instead, young David kept his musical obsessions in his head, and by the time he was ready to loose them, his skull had accumulated several album’s worth of left- field hip-hop detritus. Geti has since released fourteen albums in ten years. He made his first two nearly by accident, on the way to completing his so-called “debut,” Gasoline Rainbows. That triptych created a hefty rumble in the underground, showcasing stylish, heady raps intertwined with thick threads of soul, pop, rock and psychedelia. With 2006’s Dennehy — a character-based concept album loaded with Chi-town signposts and sports references — Geti established himself as the missing link between Kool Keith, Common Sense and Bill Swerski’s Superfans. Since, he’s been following a stream of consciousness through the darker corners of society and his psyche over an increasingly adventurous musical trajectory. In 2008 alone, Geti debuted two new projects: Yoome, an intimate electronic collaboration with a New Zealand chanteuse, and Friday Night, an exercise in deconstructed party rap with emcee Hi-Fidel. In 2009, Adam “doseone” Drucker (Subtle, themselves, 13& God) signed Geti and his sometimes production partner Polyphonic to Anticon. The pair released their sophomore collaboration on the label that same year, Terradactyl, which found the emcee’s bleak verbiage delivered in both rhyme and free-floating sing-song over an intricate and glitchy expanse of experimental electronics. Fifteen months later came Serengeti & Polyphonic’s double EP, Bells & A Floating World, which featured six brand new songs and as many remixes, including inspired reworkings by artists as diverse as WHY?, Bracken, Jel, Son Lux, Greetings From Tuskan and Epstein Y El Conjunto. 2011 is looking to be one of Geti’s busiest years yet, thanks to Anticon’s release of Tha Grimm Teachaz’ long-lost cassette-only classic There’s a Situation on the Homefront (Geti helped bring the formerly shelved 1993 album to the label) and his contribution to Asthmatic Kitty’s ongoing 7-inch series. His latest Anticon release is Family & Friends, a refreshingly upbeat full-length produced by WHY?’s Yoni Wolf and Advance Base, formerly known as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone.