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Cool Rules: Why? Plunges Into ‘Eskimo Snow’

Why?’s Yoni Wolf is something of a pocket indie-rock/hip-hop genius, positioned right in our East Bay backyard, hidden in plain sight. You might spy him jogging around Oakland’s Piedmont neighborhood or washing up at choice underground shows at 21 Grand. And otherwise you can catch him all over the new Why? disc, Eskimo Snow (Anticon), or live at Great American Music Hall Oct. 17 with a new five-piece lineup including Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson of the Fog.

All the lovelorn wit and literate angst crammed onto Why?’s last indie-psych release, the acclaimed Alopecia (Anticon, 2008), can be found on Eskimo Snow as well -- after all it emerged from the same Minneapolis recording sessions. Still, the new recording's rustic vibe is decidedly darker and more wintery than the hairy, heartbroken Alopecia's (named after the disorder Wolf once suffered from), though it’s no less sonically enticing. “Into the Shadows of My Embrace” sparkles with glorious vibraphone runs, as Wolf spiels like a cantankerous Bob Dylan. “Berkeley by Hearseback” takes a melancholy turn amid fingerpicked guitar and echo-chamber piano, whereas “This Blackest Purse” weaves a bittersweet, velvety tapestry of piano and backing vocals. Dour, yes -- yet Wolf and crew make a strong case for the power of poetry and ambitious music-making.   


"Song of the Sad Assassin" from Alopecia.

Why? plays Saturday, Oct. 17, 9 p.m., at Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. Mount Eerie, Au, and Serengeti & Polyphonic also perform. $16. (415) 885-0750, www.gamh.com