Few lyricists—outside of perhaps the realm of black metal—are as obsessively morbid as Why? songwriter Yoni Wolf. Probably none are as self-conscious about it. From opener "The Vowels, Pt. 2," which has him "filming his own fake death" to the coda "Exegesis," a brief, circular suicide diagram, death casts a long shadow. Even his love songs are grim: The lilting, affectionate "These Few Presidents" has as its most romantic sentiment the promise, "Even though I haven't seen you in years/Yours is a funeral I'd fly to from anywhere," and the musically upbeat occultist mash note "Fatalist Palmistry" bookends fleeting hope with the lines "I sleep on my back 'cause it's good for the spine/and coffin rehearsal" and "God put a song on my palm that you can't read/I'll be embalmed with it long before you'll see." Why?'s gallows act would be pretty depressing—okay, it is pretty depressing—if it weren't so full of unexpected, funny, and downright thrilling turns of phrase.
Musically, this is Why?'s most solid work yet, the full realization of their transition from bedroom-produced post-hop toward something more freaky and folky. Ghostly samples and echoes accent electric-guitar peals and bass dirges; minor-key piano melodies follow funeral-procession rhythms. Walking down the street, the nodding, downer cadences of "Good Friday" or "By Torpedo or Crohn's" feel like an enveloping force field—gloom as a comforting coat. (The notable exception to the overwhelmingly dark mood is the near-Weakerthans prairie twang on the briefly bright chorus of "Fatalist Palmistry.")
When the lyrics aren't grave digging, they're confessional, full of what Wolf calls, "The kind of shit I don't admit to my head shrinker": Here's Wolf jacking off in an art museum bathroom; here he is losing his lunch on his shoes in the Whole Foods parking lot; here's him angrily stalking Berlin after dark; here he is neurotically oversanitizing his hands. Throughout, Wolf's wordplay is clever and agile enough to make even the heaviest or most absurd scenes charming—"The Fall of Mr. Fifths" features a double-time breakdown about school-district funding and interpretive dance (seriously) that just totally slays. Alopecia may lack the bright spots of the band's previous, Elephant Eyelash, but it's no less stunning an album. ERIC GRANDY
The formula is as righteous as airbrushed custom vans and slip-on checkerboard Vans: Take '80s dance-floor pop, spliff it out with downtempo-beat aesthetics, and burnish with cosmic-disco synthery. The result is sensual, tacky, and irrefutably cool—an earnest homage to an oft-scoffed-at era of influence. It's the '80s unstuck in '08. Call it "yachtronica."
Sorcerer is Oakland, California, dweller Daniel Saxon Judd. Hard to guess his age from the scant info available on his MySpace page, but it's easy to imagine he wasn't roller-skating to Bananarama when "Cruel Summer" was a hit. Still, for any child of the '70s, slave to the '80s, or fan of things vocoded, synthesized, and sequenced, Judd taps into a long-dormant heartbeat.
Sorcerer's aesthetic is more faraway, less accessible than his radio-ready source material, however. His elaborate electronic update of otherwise sparse, economical pop has the indulgent, introverted sense of a bedroom project—it's a layered labor of love. Tracks with names like "Surf Wax," "Egyptian Sunset," and "Hawaiian Island" run upward of six or eight minutes—plenty of time to mix a mai tai and saunter to the foredeck of your nearest cabin cruiser. The tracks don't actually go anywhere, per se; instead they purposefully linger in pastel ambience, basking in a palette of sunset and surf hues as evocative as the beachside sounds that start the album rolling.
Listen: If you've ever in your life worn boat shoes—ironically or no—it's your duty to appreciate this stuff. JONATHAN ZWICKEL
You'd figure a fast-cutting DJ mix that crams 27 rapid-tempo songs into 67 unbroken minutes would have some drive to it. Some of the time, you'd be right. But for the most part, this Fabric mix, helmed by longtime Miami hiphop jock Craze, is surprisingly aimless. The first quarter's boisterousness— especially Craze's opening "Intro," where Armanni Reign reads off the DJ's bona fides—feels forced, with Craze's turntable trickery less aural punctuation than distracting frippery. It buries good songs like Cool Kids' "Black Mags," and when the DJ slips in Jan Hammer's "Miami Vice Theme" for that soupçon of kitschy "fun" (as well as a nod toward his city's roots), it lowers the disc's energy instead of raising it.
The disc's second quarter is where its momentum lies, beginning with an Eli Escobar remix of Chromeo's "Bonafied Lovin'" and working through to Armand Van Helden's "I Want Your Soul." You might expect Craze cueing Debbie Deb's Latin freestyle classic "When I Hear Music" to shift things further into focus, but as with the "Vice Theme" it instead drags things to a halt, and this time the set never really recovers. A handful of songs step out from the pack—Switch's goony-in-a-good-way remix of the Chemical Brothers' "Get Yourself High," DJ Laz's bleep-and-breakbeat-driven "Red Alert," Klever's frosty electro remix of Pase Rock's "Lindsay Lohan's Revenge"—but I wish I were hearing them on their own, rather than as part of this mix. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Craze performs Fri March 7 at Sing Sing, the War Room, 9 pm, 21+. With DJs Klever, Pretty Titty, Fourcolorzack.