If you’ve been following the arc of Yoni Wolf’s career, the Sod in the Seed EP won’t hold many surprises. Following WHY?‘s established modus operandi of pairing indie-pop arrangements with a verbose take on hip-hop, the release doesn’t deviate stylistically or thematically much from its predecessors Alopecia and Eskimo Snow. In fact, any of the six song on this release could have easily been slipped into those two records without raising too many eyebrows. At just over 15 minutes long, the EP is just an amuse oreilles for what’s to come— it’s too brief to tell whether it’s the sound of a band honing a consistent identity or merely retreading the same creative territory.
Like previous WHY? output, the songs on this record are catchy pop vessels for Wolf’s distinctive vocals. Backed by the jangly, xylophone-heavy playing of his band, Wolf’s lyrical delivery alternates between two distinct settings. On each track, verses come in avalanches of knotty rhymes spit with slight sneer before snowballing into choruses sung in an adenoidal croon. There’s less emphasis on big musical buildups and releases then on previous efforts. With half the EP’s tracks falling short of two minutes, there just isn’t room for a lot of vamping or anthem-sized refrains.
Most emblematic of the formula—and the release as a whole—is the opener, “Sod in the Seed.” Built around tight woodblock percussion, the song keeps along at a steady clip, losing no momentum shifting between verse and sung chorus. Frequently an awkward stumbling block in any song pairing spoken word with melody, the band manages to bridge the gap no problem. Much credit goes to Wolf’s hyper-articulate enunciation which creates patterns just as catchy as any melodic hook. Even when throwing out run-on thoughts punctuated with polysyllables, he manages to control his breathing and emphasis to build intricate rhyming structures. It gets to the point where the stream of plosives, stresses, and glottal stops develops an entrancing rhythm that says with you long after the chorus has faded.
While the phonetics of the lyrics are indisputably impressive, their content will definitely find its detractors. Through his tongue-twisting rants, Wolf has addressed a range of ideas throughout his discography, most of which reappear here: shameful sex, fear of death, hipster posturing, childhood memories, and fame anxiety. They’re big topics to explore, and Wolf always approaches them through extremely specific details from his own life, no matter how bland. At its best, this technique echos the intimate inner worlds of another Wolf—albeit one with two Os—and at it’s worst it comes off as excessive navel gazing. Yes, he’s usually building to a larger point or an creating interesting tableau, but that can get lost in the constant references to texting, groupies, cars, and consumer electronics. By the time Wolf mentions his third grocery store in the EP’s run time (Whole Foods, Safeway, and Kroger’s, for those keeping count) you’ll might get the sense he’s not delving as deep as he could be.
Though when Wolf does bare a little more than his shopping lists, he does so beautifully. A master of wry self-deprecation, he seems to take real joy in presenting his worst sides, elevating his lowest points to bizarre highs. On “Probable Cause” Wolf does a takes us through a play-by-play retelling of his emotional breakdown during a routine traffic stop. On “Shag Carpet” he paints himself as a creepy lecher who’s not above a little post-coital theft from his young fans. In both cases he doesn’t sound so much embarrassed as oddly proud. In WHY?‘s world, there there is something redeeming in owning your failures. Unfortunately for Wolf, this EP just isn’t quite one of them.