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.