Why?'s career-launching Alopecia is an alt-hiphop album unlike any other; it's more like an experiment in ruthless self-reflection that's pitch-dark yet pop catchy. It's progressive indie-rock with an avant-rap heart and head-bobbing beats. Frontman Yoni Wolf's warm, nasally intonations switch between singsong rhyme-slinging and tunefully apathetic singing that climbs and falls over live band instrumentals—guitar, bass, keys, rhythms built on organic percussion and drum-machine programming.
This year marks the album's 10th anniversary, and in honor of the milestone—and a special reissue from Joyful Noise Recordings—the Cincinnati-based trio is taking Alopecia on the road and playing it in its entirety at each stop.
"I went through a long time where I never would have done this—I never would have played these shows five years ago," Wolf said in a recent phone interview, about playing Alopecia front to back onstage. "I would have been like, ugh, that material is so dark, I don't want to go back to that, it was a bad time for me."
But he says enough time has passed that it almost feels like someone else. "I have love and compassion for the guy who wrote that stuff. He was clever, there's a lot of clever writing in there I'm proud of, and I can say that with some distance, you know?"
From opener "The Vowels, Pt. 2" through lead single "The Hollows" to "Fatalist Palmistry" (No. 94 on Pitchfork's "100 Best Tracks of 2008" list) to album closer "Exegesis," Alopecia flows in perfectly brooding, disillusioned yet wit-soaked confessions from a narrator (ostensibly Wolf) who comes off as troubled, anxious, overcome with self-doubt, preoccupied with death and suicide (though not suicidal), and just plain ill, sharing his inner turmoil and baring his crude truths in an upbeat musical format.
Alopecia gets under your skin, and gets stuck in your head, with lines are somehow both cryptic and revealing. Like: "I'm not a ladies' man, I'm a land mine"; and "By you my tongue may stutter / But my gift heart screams clear and swells / To burst between the wrapped lengths / Of its bowed ribbon cell"; and "In Berlin I saw two men fuck / In the dark corner of a basketball court / Just a slight jingle / Of pocket change pulsing"; and "I sleep on my back / 'Cause it's good for the spine / And coffin rehearsal."
Listening to 2017's Moh Lhean, you can tell Wolf has mellowed over the years, though he says the material he's been working on most recently, while not dark, is "maybe less hopeful."
Which he's willing to concede has much to do with the current political climate. He says he's not getting political, "But it's impossible right now for that stuff not to seep into your life."
Wolf combats it like many of us do—with regular doses of escapism: "I've been watching 90 Day Fiancé," he admits, and laughs. "Smoking weed and watching 90 Day Fiancé or America's Next Top Model, just to get my brain out of reality."