Whatever happened to indierock anyway? Like most semi-progressive folks my age, I grew up under indierock's looming cultural shadow. Somewhere along the way however, indierock screwed the pooch—as thrift-store finds, zines, and Yo La Tengo became appropriated and retooled by successors like Urban Outfitters, shitty blogs, and Death Cab for Cutie. Where does it leave all of us that indie left behind? As a nation of 30-year-olds crying in our cheap lagers over how we can't hold down a job or afford health insurance. And for that, the whole shebang really could rot in hell as far as I'm concerned.
Despite their indie hiphop credibility, one of the Anticon collective's latest endeavors is WHY?—a band best described as modern indierock. As such, Elephant Eyelash, their latest release, adheres carefully to the standards of mid-'90s indierock: artwork that foregoes Photoshop for a homemade photo collage? Check. Lyrics full of casual "slice of life" observations? Check. Simple and somewhat understated melodies? Check. Bespectacled artist in drab, ill-fitting clothes? Check. Lyrics scrawled journal-style in the liner notes? Check!
Despite hyphenated buzzwords like "psych-rock" and "folk-pop" being tossed around to describe Elephant Eyelash, I have to trust my handy checklist and call a spade a spade. The well-metered vocal deliveries of WHY? mastermind Yoni Wolf are colored by the Anticon collective's typical proto-hiphop flavor, but overall things feel about as "from the streets" as the Streets or even (god forbid) Cake.
As is generally the case with hiphop, though, it's the honest flow of WHY?'s lyrics that deliver their most effective moments. Stand out tracks like the sped-up '70s piano balladry of "Gemini (Birthday Song)" take on a natural charm when Wolf waxes on about subjects as unlikely as a lady friend's toenail clippings, White Castle, and "skinny dolphins swimming between the mattress and bedding." Still, when all is said and done, WHY? makes me feel a little bit sad—like watching a kid cling to the ball long after all the others have cleared the court. It makes me wonder: Who's worse off, those who regard their youth with disdain, or those who refuse to let go of it?