A year and a half after releasing the acclaimed Alopecia, WHY? returns with their fourth album, Eskimo Snow. The two records are perfect foils: while last year's release delivered 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.
Yoni Wolf and the gang 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 of the Midwestern winters with which these Cincinnati boys grew up.
These Hands opens the album up rich and with deliberate pacing, the rhythm section operating under heavy reverb. Vibraphone likewise duets with piano while windy, wordless vocals fly around the atmosphere, and wet footsteps soon carry the listener to January Twenty Something. Amid this folksy grandness, the whole crew sings for the chorus, bending their harmony into a gorgeously warped drawl.
Most impressively, this record presents a band uninhibited, but evermore accomplished at imbuing sound with mood. 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. 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, Wolf stops bucking against the inevitable. In the process, the band discovers a rich place within which their listeners can happily live.