Let me start this review with a disclaimer: the only thing that qualifies me to review this album is that I once met some of the members of Anticon, which is a hip-hop collective and also the label that put out this album. They were nice people, who offered to put me on their guest list when I jokingly suggested it. But I couldn't go to the show and even now, I have no idea what Anticon the group sounds like. My experience with hip-hop consists of owning a De La Soul album, but I only bought it because someone I once admired liked them and it made me curious. So, I admit that I'm biased, and that this bias automatically makes me take off at least two points.
That said, I don't know how well Why? (aka Jonathan Wolf) fits into the category of hip-hop. There are moments when he sounds like early Beck with a sharper edge. The buzzy sounds of "Cold Lunch" remind me of some song off Mellow Gold, but the beat makes it unique. He uses all sorts of strange instruments, including kid toys in "Dirty Glass." And though he mostly speaks the lyrics rather than singing them, as if he is rapping, they very rarely rhyme. Personally, I would consider this spoken word put to music, or attention deficit disorder hip-hop. The songs are so short, perhaps it would sit even better in a crossroads between punk and hip-hop.
But I'm just hedging, trying to avoid laying judgement on this album. There is a part of me that really likes it. The music is wonderfully peculiar. The lyrics themselves have some glorious moments; lines like "Kissing me/ Is a waste of your saliva" from "Seventeen" are endearing, in the way that a stray cat sheltering itself from the rain on my porch would be endearing. But I have this parallel image of a teenager with a backwards baseball cap and saggy jeans singing into a microphone in his bedroom, thinking he's really cool. Unfortunately, Jonathan Wolf doesn't really know how to sing (or chooses not to), which gives me a rash in my ears. But at the same time, his voice doesn't actually detract from the music. Rather, it sort of gets in the way sometimes, as someone who isn't accustomed to humoring others will continue talking long after their surprising, brief joke makes the crowd at a party laugh.
I can't, in all honesty, rip this album apart as I might some more mainstream hip-hop group. Yet I'd be lying if I said I'd listen to it more than once or twice a year once I finish this review. Jonathan's soul-bearing is a little too vulnerable and earnest for me to be mean, but his own cartoonish treatment of his music blunts the arrows of his viewpoint, so that he comes across more as a caricature of himself. He answers his own soul-searching with impenetrably silly riddles. Like trying to explain something to a child who keeps asking "why?", you eventually just give up. 6/10 -- Eden Hemming Rose (25 May, 2005)