Why? so sad?

A few days ago, a friend and I were talking about our current guilty pleasures. He was listening to a lot of Why?, which he described as an incredibly nasal man who comes across as semi-suicidal and morbidly obsessed with a woman he used to date and hasn’t talked to in years. My friend noted that though this doesn’t sound very promising — for those of us who grew up in the age of Limp Bizkit, there will always be something slightly disreputable about “rap-rock,” whether or not critical darlings are involved — the music was strangely absorbing. Intrigued, I purchased Why?‘s last three albums.

There was a time when I was plugged in to the world of Anticon, which Hua Hsu ably described and contextualized for eMusic a while back. But that was before Anticon’s DIY turn.

It was with the success of cLOUDDEAD, Doseone’s collaboration with art school friends (and future Anticon artists) Odd Nosdam and Why?, that Anticon’s identity truly began to evolve into something new and perverse. Sparse, surreal and oddly bewitching, cLOUDDEAD’s singles signaled a break from the conventional “beats-and-rhymes” formula to which Anticon had adhered. The evolution of Doseone and Jel’s Themselves into the even-more abstract Subtle resulted in a direct line between Anticon and admiring European electronic artists like Boards of Canada, Hood, Ms. John Soda and the Notwist.

Earlier on, prompted by a favorable review from The A.V. Club, I bought and listened to the new album from Restiform Bodies, an Oakland-based group that works in a similar, if somewhat less morose, vein. Though Restiform Bodies have some fun and danceable songs, it smacks too much of nostalgia for me. Why?, in contrast, is an unlikely amalgam of guilty pleasure music ranging from The Pharcyde to Pinback. And unlikely combinations, for me at least, tend to stimulate the ear for a longer period of time. This review, which I found while searching for the line “I sleep on my back ‘cause it’s good for my spine,” recommends that Why? fans check out: “doseone, The Beach Boys, Aesop Rock, The Arctic Monkeys, Joanna Newsom, OutKast, Bob Dylan, The Silver Jews and Neil Young.” The Beach Boys and Dylan and Neil Young seem a little strong, but I get it. Same for Silver Jews: I sense sympathetic vibrations. I’m sorry I’ve missed these guys for so long.