Each week, Sunday School takes a second look at a classic album worth revisiting years after its release. EMMIE staff handpick releases that shaped a genre, defined a generation or deserve recognition despite being left in the distance. Keep up with Sunday School for your weekly dose of dusted-off classics and throwbacks that merit a second spin.
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Good For: Repetitive art projects, nature walks, riding public transport.
Standout Tracks: “By Torpedo or Crohn’s,” “Simeon’s Dilemma”
It’s not easy to associate WHY?’s Alopecia with any modern music genre. It’s a combination of elaborate slam-poetry, carefully articulated instruments (both digital and acoustic), and the breathless, emotional chaos that is the verse of WHY?’s main creative force, Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf. Before diving into the rhythmic whirlwind that is Alopecia, be sure to leave any expectations you have at the door.
Our protagonist isn’t vague about describing himself and his situation within the first two songs. “The Vowels, Part 2” and “Good Friday” give the listener a clear picture of his anxious, withdrawn and self-deprecating nature. Despite the frequently negative depictions Yoni gives the listener of himself, the layered language he uses to describe his own mannerisms and quirks pulls the listener in from the start. Both of these bass-heavy tracks demonstrate Yoni and percussionist Josiah’s abilities to coordinate their articulations in creative ways.
“These Few Presidents” is a charming tune which is almost comically contradicted by “The Hollows,” a nihilistic self-slam in which Yoni curses that “the last six months [he’s] been hiding behind a mustache.” These tracks give the listener a glimpse of the almost Shakespearean noun complexity of Yoni’s lyrics, heavy with unexpected euphemisms.
“Song of the Sad Assassin” is the song that first introduced me to Alopecia ten years ago, in the passenger seat of my brother’s battered Jeep Wrangler. The wistful, simply flowing piano accompanied by heavy vocal layering creates a memorable melody and gives the entire experience a soft, almost reluctant aura. There’s a similar flow on “Gnashville.” WHY? once again fools the listener into thinking they can know how a track might sound before they reveal it to them. Contrasting the heavy flow on “Gnashville” is the next track, “Fatalist Palmistry,” which uses catchy harmonies and guitar hooks to form the album’s most romantic track, which features lines like “Your cat clawed out my eyes while I was distracted by your smile.”
“The Fall of Mr. Fifths” brings the listener back to the themes of Yoni’s insecurities, his struggles with mundanity and self-identity, and quips like “If I remain lost and die on a cross, at least I wasn’t born in a manger.”
“A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under” and “Twenty-Eight” are two more songs on which the line between vocals and rhythm is blurred by Yoni’s tendency to rely on lengthy instrumentals to compress his lyrics into melody-driven, hip-hop influenced rants. Both of his vocal tracks in these songs are under one minute, something WHY? is known for.
Next comes a personal favorite of mine called “Simeon’s Dilemma,” the love song of this album. It’s a sentimental song, featuring lines like “It’s out: you’re mostly what I think about, and I’m proud.” “Simeon’s Dilemma” lets the listener know that Alopecia’s protagonist isn’t only the emotionless void he makes himself out to be on most of the tracks.
“By Torpedo or Crohn’s” is a standout track for being the heaviest and best-flowing lyrical composition on Alopecia. The song details the self-doubt and mental debilitation Yoni has experienced as a long-time sufferer of Crohn’s disease. It’s described here in simple statements like “Just as a kid I did not shit my pants much, why start now with the stuff?”. We hear the same motif from before “While I’m alive, I’ll feel alive,” in a slightly different context, tonally indicating a yearning for “what’s next” that we didn’t hear before. “Exegesis” is the final track, sounding like an incantation and burning a few more unforgettable images in the listener’s brain before fading out.
Ten years after its release, Alopecia remains the album that won over what is still WHY?’s primary fanbase. They have since released six albums, their most recent being Moh Lhean in 2017. If you enjoy progressive instrumental tracks accompanied by seamless rhythmic flow, Alopecia is a must-know for any alt fan.