After a little research, I was surprised to learn that WHY?’s last release (2009’s Eskimo Snow) was generally well-received–some outlets even rated it higher than Alopecia, the record that preceded it. For me, Alopecia was a masterstroke, winding together disturbing confessions and impressively likeable musical styles, with hundreds of things in between. Eskimo Snow, on the other hand (the content of which was culled from the same recording sessions as Alopecia), felt like a bit of a let-down, not quite hitting on that impressionable detailed angst WHY? championed before. To describe Snow in the most basic terms–a concise and fairly compact collection of b-sides–and consider it as such puts it under a better light, but I still prefer spending time with Alopecia, even though it’s a stranger and more awkward creature.
Thus, the three years that have elapsed between Snow and now, have felt more like the full four, which is pretty long slog. Who cares, though, right? WHY? are back with the Sod in the Seed EP, which paves the way to their next full-length (Mumps, Etc.) later this year. The wait is over! New music from Yoni and the crew! But hang on–by the looks of things it would appear history is repeating itself, albeit in a backwards sort of way. Sod in the Seed gathers six tracks over fifteen minutes and seeks to start the build-up of excitement.
And as the first track (“Sod in the Seed”) plays, it’s easy to get excited. Over a slick groove, and in between a brief chorus, lead singer/lyrical troubadour Yoni Wolf starts the journey into his world of sex, death, and name-dropped supermarkets. “Let’s review some recent facts” he begins, before trailblazing through a variety of subjects from Morse code blinking, to needle exchanges trucks, to “groupies with big breasts.” While the subject matter doesn’t feel as aberrant or heavy as the likes of “Good Friday,” it’s still quite full-on. In nearly five minutes Wolf delivers four detailed verses, all of which have golden and quotable lines, but the track teeters on offering too much; WHY? fans will love the track, but new listeners might feel like they’re being served too much in one helping.
This line of thought carries on regarding the rest of the EP’s content in that it’ll appeal to those who have followed the band; to others, Sod in the Seed can easily come off as scattershot, inessential, and forgettable. “For Someone” tries out some hyperactive bongo drumming and a loose reggae rhythm with an admirable result, but the song’s only likeable feature is its chorus where the band slows down the tempo and Wolf paints a picture of loneliness: “6:03, the city is asleep/ And these streets are seven seas of confetti in the breeze/ When dawn comes and I’m waiting on the beach like a slow sucking leech for someone/ Is it you?”
Instrumental experimentation is present elsewhere: the marimba on “Probable Cause,” the sonic effects at the end of “The Plan” and “Twenty Seven,” and on “Shag Carpet” they even try out some bobbing a cappella. It’s great to see the band try all this stuff out, but at the same time it feels uncooked. This thought leads on to the point that this is just an EP, and this is the kind of outlet where a band can justifiably try and incorporate new things without fear of repercussion. And WHY? have to be credited for a creating a solid little whole here: the tracks bleed into each other well, there are lyrical motifs dotted here and there, and one could argue that it certainly feels like a considered statement as much as it does a scattershot collection of ideas. Again, it goes back to whether you’re approaching this as a casual listener, or an avid follower of the band.
Compared to past outings, Sod in the Seed doesn’t paint a clearer picture of Wolf, but instead seems to add more distracting detail. If anything, a track like “Shag Carpet” casts him in a creepier light, turning a simple question (“What’s your name?” he sings in a refrain that bears a likeness to “Even The Good Wood Gone”) into a seedy come-on before he goes on to confess that “when you finally fall asleep/ I’m gonna go through your purse”. And the detail isn’t always helpful or insightful either, but instead can be read like, as Wolf himself puts it, “vapid raps [scribbled] on your flyer backs”. It could all be a red herring, though, before Mumps, Etc. hits the shelves in a few months’ time; Wolf makes numerous references to letting you into his head during “Sod in the Seed,” and the track itself sounds out of context, beginning on what sounds like the closing lines to a previous song.
We can only take Sod in the Seed for what it is then – for the time being, at least. Fans will no doubt appreciate having a few new tracks to add their collections, and “Sod in the Seed” certainly whets the appetite for the new album (it’s the only track that’ll reappear on Mumps, Etc.), but the EP feels like no more than a brief outing where the band can try out a few things. Better then for the band to get the b-sides and such out of the way before dropping the album; should we get another album on par with Alopecia (or Elephant Eyelash, for that matter), then it’s best to let its effect last until the next release.