Panther: 14Kt. God/WHY?: Alopecia…

A couple releases:

14 Kt. God
Kill Rock Stars
Released: 2.19.08

Rating: 8.25 out of 10

14 Kt. God is strange in an understated sort of way. A multifaceted mixture of psych and funk, instrumentalist, Charlie Salas-Humara, and drummer, Joe Kelly, seem ponderous at even their most direct and loud, sort of like they’re unsure about everything they’re doing. At times, 14 Kt. God feels like it emerged unrehearsed during an impromptu jam session, as if every decision, every sound, every choice was made on the spot. But that doesn’t tarnish the album’s vitality and the fact that there are some really awesome ideas at play here.

Starting things off with the mid-tempo funk of “Puerto Rican Jukebox,” and then following that with the Middle-Eastern nuances of “Her Past Are The Trees,” Panther establish a willingness to go anywhere and do anything. They introduce some odd mathematical progressive twists with “Decision, Decision,” “Worn Moments” and “Beautiful Condo,” get laid back with “On The Lam” and go into straight-up disjointed and percussive with the title track. “These Two Trees” offers what could easily be an interpretation of fusion-era Miles Davis. (It’s opening reminds me of conga track, “Mtume,” from the amazing, Get Up With It.)

Despite their propensity for subtle complexity, “Violence, Diamonds,” cello-heavy, “Take Yr Cane," instrumental, “Total Sexy Church” and “What You Hear” offer a more straight-ahead tonality, high-tempo, heavy thumb bass lines and rhythm guitar. But, even in these instances, layers still exist and there really aren’t any monotonous moments.

The song, “Glamorous War,” refuses to leave my head. Set up like a psychedelic “Benny & The Jets,” there’s a section that transitions into waves of organ music, juxtaposed with cello strings and vocal harmonies. For me, it’s the album’s winner.

Photo by Ingrid Renan

Released: 3.11.08

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

”If you grew up with white boys who only look at black and Puerto Rican porno/’Cuz they want somethin’ that their Dad don’t got/Then you know where you’re at…”

I wish it were easy for me to say “this album rules” because I’ve honestly been rewriting the same first paragraph for days regarding this album. I’m so desperate to get away from it that I was tempted to just paraphrase someone else’s review and wipe my hands clean of it, Pontious Pilate in the house, and just let the music-buying, burning and downloading public decide for themselves. I need to listen to something else! Alopecia, new album by Oakland-based trio, WHY? is, to be quite honest, one of the most frustrating things I’ve heard in recent memory because, and a large chunk of the alt-flavored population will disagree with me, it’s so…fucking…un…even.

Follow me now as I take you on a little trip where decisions and ideas exist purely in a collage-like capacity, where sounds are just arbitrarily glued together in an attempt at marrying samples and drum machine beats with waves of xylophone percussion, isolated or cloudy piano swirls and heavy-handed bass thumps. A place where hip-hop exists as a primary outlet for a bunch of guys that probably shouldn’t attempt it and then folds under the weight of whiny pop tracks that might keep the Alternative Press crowd appeased. And, while we’re on the road, let your ears feast on an all-out smorgasbord of nonsensical prose laced with a somewhat passionate tonality that suggests introspection, insight and consideration. And then, we’ll bust out the marshmallows and have an over-the-fire discourse in regard to Alopecia’s brilliant ambiguity and possible depth-charged level impact.

I’m probably being unfair because Alopecia, for the most part, is really well done and consistently interesting from a musical standpoint. “Good Friday,” being one of the few instances where vocalist, Yoni Wolf’s, flat, indifferent and cryptic lyrics actually work, is a nonsensical but atmospheric piece of XXX folk-hop. Its aimless and seemingly dissatisfied delivery is sort of in the vein of Beck’s “Loser,” but its inaccessibility makes it seem a little more genuine. “Song Of The Sad Assassin,” with its very strong bass and kick-beat intro, switches into a somewhat pretty and rhythmic piano/beat piece. “Gnashville” is multi-layered and lonely, powered by distant whistles and echoed percussion. “Brook & Waxing” and “A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under” both heavily utilize those swirling notes I touched on before, the former happening during the song’s sped up outro and the latter occurring throughout the entire track with a xylophone. It does have a collaged structure as elements are haphazardly pasted throughout songs, but in a way that seems deliberate. Because of this, Alopecia benefits from headphones.

The seeming nonsense that Wolf spews over songs however does become distracting, despite its possible existence in abstract narrative or metaphor. In the case of “The Hollows” for example, the song’s asserted passion winds up meaningless as statements like >”This goes out to all my underdone, under-tongued, long, long frontmen…,” lose steam when juxtaposed with a report of witnessing two men banging in a basketball court. Once again, I might be too literal with my analysis and it could be that the lyrics are supposed to take on the same collage pose as the song structure. If that’s the case though, it’s a motif much better suited for the music itself.

Alopecia’s highpoints are also tarnished to an extent by the ultra-whiny “These Few Presidents” and “Fatalist Palmistry,” which deviate from the otherwise rapped vocals WHY? employs throughout. Despite the fact that Wolf comes off like Weezer trying to throw down rhymes, “Nerd-hop” if you will, it’s a much more effective device than the Jiffy-Pop’d singing he commits to the aforementioned tracks. Even the freestyle flow of “Twenty Eight” makes more sense here.

Overall, WHY? have a distinguished sound and an imagination for sound structure, but Alopecia would’ve benefited from editing and a better handle on song content. A title that has something to do with the album might’ve helped, too.

Photo by Jacob Hand

Letters From A Tapehead

Current listening:
Joy Division - Atrocity Exhibition (Still 2CD reissue, 1980: Live At High Wycombe Town Hall)


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