Yoni Wolf is a really interesting guy. He first came to prominence as a co-founder of the artist run label collective Anticon back in 1998. From there he released a string of singles and one full length with the experimental hip-hop group cLOUDDEAD. Scoring rave reviews on Pitchfork and subsequently rippling through hip-hop and indie circles, Yoni Wolf a.k.a WHY? found himself a minor star.
Since disbanding clOUDDEAD and shifting his solo moniker WHY? into a full time band, he has continued the string of intriguing and challenging recordings and has reaped tremendous critical acclaim and fan adoration. Mumps etc. is the latest offering from the Cincinnati based group and one of the more polarizing releases Wolf has put out.
“Nothing about me comes rapidly,” he bemoans. And that must be true. It’s been three years since Eskimo Snow and four years since WHY? released their landmark Alopecia record. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. Mumps etc. is obviously the result of some serious labouring. It’s definitely the most polished sounding WHY? record and certainly some of Wolf’s densest lyrical writing. Mumps etc. also found Wolf taking on much more writing than on previous WHY? releases. The program of demoing a song a week for 19 weeks gave him the material for both Mumps etc. and last August’s teaser Sod in the Seed EP. “This record is kind of more my thing,” Wolf hesitantly states, “Not to say it’s my record. The other guys definitely played everything and there was much collaboration involved in all aspects but in a way it was my baby.”
This time out WHY? and Mumps etc. got slammed by reviewers.
“Slow pitching like a Vatican priest to be Pope. What? Nope. So every morning wake up with hope. And at night fall asleep at the end of your rope. Alone, pretending to cope,” Wolf raps in “Jonathan’s Hope.”
So Mumps etc. fringes on the depressing. But it’s brilliant. A serious self-analysis with no diagnosis. An exercise in rhyme and metaphor and a record that deserves a few spins to really get into.
It’s ostensibly a record about being trapped in your artistic 30s. It’s about growing out of that impulsive period and realizing you have a shit-tonne of life to deal with. It’s not about swollen necks or nuts as he quips in “Sod in the Seed”; it’s about inflammation and proper eating habits and getting to bed on time.
But that’s shitty rock ’n’ roll. And maybe that’s one of the conflicting themes weaved into the album. As Wolf sings in the chorus to “Sod in the Seed”, ”I’ll never shirk, this first world curse. A steady hurt, and a sturdy purse.”
With critical success behind him it can become daunting to try to live up to expectations. And Wolf acknowledges how that pressure can get into a writer’s head, “I think about it at times, and those are usually the times that I don’t write. When I’m writing I have to be grounded and free of all that stuff. Maybe that’ll mean I’ll write less and less as time goes on.”
There’s no doubting Wolf’s talent. He rattles off syllables and consonants like he’s drying off with a towel. That’s what makes Mumps etc. interesting. It’s not the work of a 20-year-old out with guns blazing; it’s the sound of patience and experience.
If Alopecia arrived with a critical hurrah, Mumps etc. lands with jaded bloggers in the key of QWERTY claiming to know exactly what the band should be writing about. And Wolf laments on “Sod in the Seed”, “A hundred bucks worth of wordy blogger thugs come forthwith.”
I’ll tell ya this much: the Biltmore on March 2nd will be a shaker of a show. Listen to Elephant Eyelash, listen to Alopecia, listen to Eskimo Snow. And listen to Mumps etc. Or do whatever you want, I don’t care. My glands are swelling.
WHY? Plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday, March 2.
By Joseph BloodBC, British Columbia