Yoni Wolf is music’s Great American Loser. He’s lonely. He cries. He masturbates frequently. He steals from women’s purses. He is all-around deplorable, and he gets a masochistic kick out of telling you so in detail, freely revealing all of his most intimate personal failures. Each new WHY? release brings another unearthed low point to giggle or goggle at, or — for those who identify with G.A.L. misery — wince and empathetically nod heads at.
Elaine Blair’s article for The New York Review of Books identifies the ‘Great American Loser’ as a trend in recent young men’s fiction, an attempt to dispel criticism (especially from women) by being the first one to self-criticize, to show the author-insert’s lifestyle as undesirable and pathetic — to portray, with an exaggerated emphasis on embarrassment, “the man who finds himself unloved and unlovable.” This is, once again, where we pick up with Yoni Wolf on Sod on the Seed. On “Probable Cause” he laments his “hungry unwed life” to an uncomfortable state trooper, before breaking down and sobbing; on “Shag Carpet,” he wonders why he’s alone and then immediately warns potential romantic partners to keep their distance for their own good.
Sod in the Seed is bookended by two raps, and the opening title track is the first time we’ve heard Yoni deliver a straight-up rap since Alopecia. It’s easy to forget, among all the twinkling xylophonic pop songs present here and on Eskimo Snow, how talented he is as a rapper: a clever, nimble, internal-rhyme-favoring boaster with a refreshing disregard for decorum. When he’s rapping, he’s almost noble, casting aside the loser persona to shake his lopsided mane and talk shit with aplomb, before the inevitable return to disgrace. And yet his depressive, tell-it-like-I-see-it honesty is more than G.A.L. ingratiation: there’s something sincere about its directness, even when he’s thickly laying on the persona.
The next four songs, which continue in the indie pop style of Eskimo Snow, are limp in comparison; absent are the wit and wordplay that make “Sod in the Seed” so dynamic. With their last album, WHY? proved they could do more than muttered, sing-song hip-hop, but in the brief eight minutes allotted to these middle tracks (which should have been the meat of the EP), nothing is allowed to build to a rousing climax like the best of Eskimo Snow; they sort of trail off before they have a chance to distinguish themselves.
Yoni returns to rap again on the finale, “Shag Carpet,” though just when it seems like it might reach the unapologetically asocial heights of “Sod in the Seed,” he stumbles over the rhymeless, awkward, “I’m so lonesome that I’d let you take me out/ If you looked like my ex-girlfriend or Zooey Deschanel.” Playing pathetic suits him, but not with lines this clunky. At least he’s slowly shedding his reputation as a contemptible Great American Loser; he’s no longer snatching purses, as on Alopecia’s “Good Friday,” but simply rifling through them once their owners fall asleep, and — unbelievably for a WHY? record — there aren’t any references to masturbation.