Anticon’s blustery beginning had them setting a course for the salvation of hip hop. Heads and hoods alike reacted with curmudgeonly cries of a swindle. Instead of time-tested boom-bap, Anticon was serving up sad-sap introspection and a restless collective aesthetic. Encapsulating every conceivable criticism of the clique and their place in hip hop history, Why?’s new Sanddollars EP continues to move beyond the confines of any one genre. While it’s a quirky and curiously catchy batch of songs, it shares almost nothing in common with the hard plastic hip hop discs it’s sure to be filed away with at the local record store. If this is music for the advancement of hip hop, it’s moved so far from that genre that it can barely be recognized as ever having emerged from it.

This is really not so much a departure for Why? as it is the natural course of his craft. The lo-fi hip hop haze of Greenthink and Clouddead gave way to the rock and pop appropriations of Reaching Quiet. Evolving into Oaklandazulasylum, Why?'s debut was more soft strumming guitar and sing-sigh vocals than sampled beats and sick rhymes. The tour that followed saw him successfully fronting an outright rock band that then followed him into the studio to record Sanddollars.

Why? thrives in this new setting. The band backing him keeps him buoyant and out of the unfathomably miasmal navel-gazing of which he’s all too often guilty. They also bolster the songs with bigger arrangements and stronger musicianship than Why? could ever get down alone on the four-track in his bedroom.

Still, this is very much a Why? record with all the good and bad that implies. The focus here is entirely on him and his ruminations. At times the in-jokes and personal references are almost impenetrable. It’s impossible to tell if the fully in-tact dead butterfly fellow Anticon alumni Doseone puts on Why?’s keyboard at soundcheck in “Next Atlanta” is an ominous portent or just some lame prank.

That irksome ambiguity is balanced out by some irresistibly ingratiating twists of tongue. The refrain “I’m the same straight-faced fat kid, 500 fingernails later” from “500 Fingernails” exemplifies Why?’s uncanny ability to extract broader symbolism from the commonest minutiae.

While flows are few and far between, his melodies have only gotten stronger with instantaneously indelible hooks. Also improved is Why?’s control over his inherent impulse to truncate underdeveloped movements. This was never a matter of pop economy like with Wire or The Unicorns so much as a restlessness more akin to Bee Thousand but without the melodic dexterity to back it up. Although not entirely vanquished, Why? continues to beat back both these shortcomings.

The title track itself stands as Why?’s strongest song yet. Ushered in on a lolling Beach Boys organ, a beat drops and locks down the groove in time for a pumping bass to propel the song into its infectious half-rap, sing-song verse. Punctuated by posse-style shouts this builds up into three distinct pre-choruses before yielding to an anthemic, fist-held-high, scream-along chorus. Amidst all this is Why?’s wicked wordplay, like the depiction of a backstage scene with pretty “plus-one babes.” The song is as exciting as it is enjoyable and hip hop enters into it only as one of many disparate influences all deftly and defiantly interconnected.

In this Why?’s work here may not be about advancing any one genre as much as it is music for the advancement of all genres. Sharing some sonic real estate with ADD influence-integrationists like The Fiery Furnaces and Architecture in Helsinki, this should at least be seen as music for the advancement of indie. In a day of play-it-safers, major label gamers, and Conor clones all competing for the most clamorous cry-fit such advocacy should not go unheralded.

Listen to "Sanddollars" courtesy of Anticon.

Buy Sanddollars and other Anticon releases at Astropitch.


Face the Truth

The new Stephen Malkmus record is easily one of my favorites for the year. Admittedly, I'm as much a fanboy for S. Malk as R. Pollard, so something simply phoned in would have sufficed. Even after factoring out that prejudice, Face the Truth still manages to exceed any expectation. It is most certainly Malk's best under his own name, but even more impressively, it's his best since Pavement's passing.

If there's a difference it's that Malk's previous solo efforts only hinted at Pavement's greatness, while Face The Truth taps right into the heart of it. Moving beyond the smug smirking of Stephen Malkmus and Pig Lib, it trades in the same suburban duality last delved into on Terror Twilight. The duality of the suburban thing is this: the impulse to reject what's considered conforming ("Box Elder"/"Pencil Rot") balanced by the urge to retreat to what's comfortable ("Shady Lane"/"Mama").

Such a return to form is not just entertaining but inspiring in the same way that one might forsake their html for handscratch or miss-mash one legendary record with another. It is in this spirit that I have opted not to carry on with an extended assessment of just how awesome this record is and instead offer a list of potential band names pulled directly from the lyrics of Face the Truth should you be so inspired.

"Pencil Rot"

Villian In My Head

Leather McWhip

Save Me From Me


"It Kills"

The Guidance Type

20 Horse Town

Old Dominion

"I've Hardly Been"

A Rock in The Rain

Yoga Olympics

Swollen Subset

The Friendship Etiquette

Quagmire Hearts

"Freeze the Saints"

Divisible Bodies

Vanish in Veneer

Luck is Love

Seasons Change

Zodiac Ballet

Except The Earth and Mountains

Your Willing Dimensions

"Loud Cloud Crew"

From Eternal Grey

Fantastic Times Await

Fieldhouse for the Brain

"No More Shoes"

Iranian Gown

All My Stray Thoughts

Your Contrarian Thaw


Disability Rank

The Dead Ends Meet

The East Nights

"Kindling for the Master"

More Like Heaven

Shot for Meat

Alone With a Crow

Into Water Colors

Plan to Return

"Post Paint Boy"

Revelation Artistry

Penny Rich


Minor Masterpieces

Untrained Eye

"Baby C'mon"

Tiny Terrors

Weekend Shares

Don't Need Highaways

Internal Bitch

The Winter Shell

Too Young For Hell


The Nervous Apprehension

Unstable No More

Your Negative Shadow


Where You Been?

Sorry for the sporadic posts. An inoperable iPod has severely hampered my usual listening schedule. A lagging service department has only exacerbated things. Hopefully I’ll have my little white plastic bundle of joy back by the end of the week and that could get me back to more reviews as early as Sunday. For now, here’s what’s been getting heavy rotation in the car and at home:

Smog A River Ain’t Too Much To Love

It’s no exaggeration to say this may be his best work yet. Follows the increasingly accessible path set forth by Supper. Sad country shuffles with wit, wisdom, and humor sure to be unparalleled until the new Silver Jews record drops.

The Books Lost and Safe

With this record The Books finally dumb down their abstract aesthetic enough to make a compelling pop record. The most inventive and non-clichéd use of a sampler I’ve heard from anyone outside the Bomb Squad. And the most ferocious cello I’ve heard this side of Brooklyn. This is the product of a lifetime raised on movies and television: we’re constantly scripting the scenes and screenplays for our lives as we live them. The Books do the same thing with song. Stunning.

The Thermals Fuckin’ A

This record makes me want to fight and fall in love all at the same time. Such a diverse juxtaposition stems from an overabundance of raw passion. This is the sound of an exposed nerve firing feedback for twenty-five solid minutes. Like a less stately Guided By Voices covering The Buzzcocks. Check them out here at Sub Pop and download “How We Know” and “Stare Like Yours.”

Weezer Make Believe

Really. I love it. And if you liked the green album then you should too. Somehow it’s gotten quite hip to hate on Weezer recently. Don’t believe the hype. This is an irrationally catchy batch of guitar pop that sits somewhat peerless in its perfection.

Why? Sanddollars

The Anticon member abandons hip hop almost completely and turns in a strong set of adventurous indie pop. Infectious heartfelt fun.

Stephen Malkmus Face The Truth

As sloppy as Pavement. As playful as his first solo record. Scattershot in the best possible sense. A mess of quirky pop and yawning yelps. At times almost touching but never too far from a wink or a nudge. Fantastic.