Why? so serious 

Eskimo Snow
with James Husband, Au
8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2
The Social, 407-246-1419
all ages

Some people look their best when they're at their worst. We want our John Cusack running heartbroken through the rain, not chuckling at a dog park. And there's a reason John F. Kennedy's White House portrait portrays a JFK deep in thought, arms folded, the creases of his mouth stabbing downward like sharpened spears — the guy could pull off sullen. Contrast that with Obama's serious face. It doesn't sit as well as his hope smile, does it?

Yoni Wolf, the Berkeley-raised musical acrobat whose specialty is dancing along the hip-hop/indie-folk high wire, is not a Cusack or a Kennedy. As the singing-songwriting centerpiece of Anticon's least hip-hop act, Why?, Wolf's suburban-Jew rhyme skills acted as a humorous ballast to his slightly askew balladry on Why?'s first two full-length albums, 2003's Oaklandazulasylum and 2008's amazing Brit-epic turn, Alopecia.

Wolf's quick turnaround on Why?'s recently released third effort, Eskimo Snow, might have something to do with the album's knee-jerk case of the blahs. Right off the bat, Wolf's first line decries his hipster wardrobe — "I wear the customary clothes of my time" — with a mournful sigh, then he emphasizes his despondency with the follow-up, "Like Jesus did with no reason not to die/Facing history with little to no irony." You know, Yoni, you're allowed to shop at Target if you want to.

The next song, "January Twenty Something," ups the tempo, a wistful, quarterlife-crisis stab at Apples in Stereo harmony, and it's Eskimo Snow's only full-on glimpse of Why? at their excitable, nasal best. The rest is a mopefest that never quite fits the group. "Even the Good Wood Gone" sees Wolf imagining his burial site and repeating the phrase "No flash photography," as if fantasizing about obnoxious stardom. And the very idea of anyone from Wolf's affluent, progressive, superliberal college town being so solipsistic as to call a song "Berkeley by Hearseback" is laughable to the point of being insulting.

It's time for Why? to buck up and smile a little. Alopecia proved they could veer away from rap and still be compelling while not getting bogged down in solemnity. In a recent interview, Wolf claimed Eskimo Snow "seems like the next step from Alopecia in some kind of thought-life of the character." This isn't a suggestion a critic gets to give very often, but it may be time for Why? to take a big step back.

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