Release Date: Oct 9, 2012
Record label: Anticon
Returning to the brighter, bolder strokes of 2008's much-beloved Alopecia after its relatively somber sibling record (and follow-up), Eskimo Snow, the fifth album from Yoni Wolf and company is their most assured work to date; the sharpest expression of an aesthetic that remains undeniably, wholly their own. It's also probably their most balanced offering, with equal weight given to emotional heft, melodic sweetness, Wolf's deft, rap-like lyricism, and the band's richly colorful arrangements. Mumps, Etc.
“I sleep on my back ‘cos it’s good for the spine…and coffin rehearsal,” sang Jonathan ‘Yoni’ Wolf on 2008’s extraordinary Alopecia. From 2009’s Eskimo Snow: “A man should die gaunt / And not bloated and overdone. ” The closing track of Mumps, etc.
WHY?Mumps, Etc.[Anticon / City Slang; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; October 3, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGIs Yoni Wolf ready to retire? On his fifth album with his Why? bandmates – Mumps, Etc. - he sounds more down and out than before, dropping references to letting his band go and implying that his self-confessional word collages are having a debilitating effect on him. “As ill as I am – I am” goes the chorus on the stuttering “Jonathan’s Hope” - and that’s just the first song.
Yoni Wolf must have opened up his bedside diary when recording WHY?’s newest album. Mumps, etc. is a collection of random musings and thoughts that speak of small-time stardom, mortality and sexual positions strung together over experimental beats of violins, pianos and guitars. It’s disjointed, but somehow held together by Wolf’s honestly and sometimes-brilliant turns of phrases: “I’ll hold my own death as a card in the deck to be played when there are no other cards left.” .
Mumps, Etc. is (as you may have guessed from the title alone) a hard sell. For many reasons it is confused, self-absorbed, remarkably gauche. It is so often an intentionally uncomfortable thing to listen to. And yet in many ways it’s the most logical step in the trajectory of WHY?’s career ….
Worrying about oversharing has never been Californian rapper and Anticon co-founder Yoni Wolf’s bag. He takes pleasure from overstepping the line, and listening to Wolf’s output since Why?’s debut in 2003 has been like reading a diary and then wishing you hadn’t. His fifth album ‘Mumps, Etc’ continues this approach, as it critically casts an eye over Wolf’s public persona on ‘Waterlines’ and dedicates a track to an unwell fan in ‘Kevin’s Cancer’.
By deviating from the successful indie nerd-rap formula that made both 2005’s Elephant Eyelash and 2008’s Alopecia so memorable, Why?‘s third album, Eskimo Snow, managed to be both a step forward and a step back, pushing the band into more eccentric directions, but also alienating some fans. Conversely, the band’s new album, Mumps, Etc., finds Yoni Wolf and company re-embracing the past glories of their earlier work without sounding tired or repetitive. The stark sadness and isolation that comprised much of Eskimo Snow‘s icy aesthetic is all but vanquished on Mumps, Etc., a nimble, sleek album filled with unshielded self-reflection.
Yoni Wolf and posse have returned, having picked up several flashy tricks in the half-decade since recording Alopecia and Eskimo Snow. Thanks to a bunch of swanky production-value-boosting additions-a string quartet, a choir, a horn section-Mumps, etc. sounds like a much bigger-budget album than its humble predecessors. Producer Graham Marsh (Cee-Lo Green, Katy Perry) gives WHY? an upbeat, pop vibe that's different than any of the band's previous work.
As a Why? believer, I’m well versed in all the necessary apologetics: Yoni Wolf’s voice isn’t annoying, it’s distinct. His lyrics aren’t garish, he just uses an idiosyncratic vernacular. The preoccupation with death and sex? That’s just straight talk. The list goes on. Though with Mumps ….
“Let’s review some recent facts…” Why?’s Yoni Wolf makes this proposal to open “Sod in the Seed”, the lead single from his latest LP, Mumps, Etc., as well as the title track to the EP that was released in August. “Sod in the Seed” is the only song from Why?’s most recent writing session to appear on both releases, and although it’s not their best track, it still feels like the centerpiece on each album. Wolf and co.
The realization that a great band has made a terrible record marks the point of pivot where you stop thinking about what's happening as a listener and turn into something like a forensics expert asking, "what happened?" The best case scenario is that an outside pathogen is to blame, a failed genre experiment, an ill-fitting producer, drugs. These are the things cult classics and critical reclamation projects are made of. The inside jobs are far more painful to endure-- records such as Travis Morrison's Travistan, Weezer's Make Believe, the Smashing Pumpkins' MACHINA/The Machines of God and the Streets' The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living that clearly couldn't have been made by anyone but their creators, but where the same qualities responsible for such individual and affecting works of art have completely turned on their owners.
Yoni Wolf is a sick man. WHY?’s founder and focal point describes his various ailments both physical and emotional in forensic and, at times, unsettling detail through the Californian act’s fifth album, the perfectly titled ‘Mumps, etc’‘Mumps, etc’ is very much a confessional album, though as is his wont, Wolf wraps these confessional lyrics in a number of cryptic rhymes and insanely detailed wordplay. It makes for an album that offers an almost endless myriad of treats as you attempt to decipher the lyrical threads and make some sense of his troubled mind.
Regardless of your situation in life, there's nothing quite like a sterile hospital bed to offer a little perspective. The air in the hospital ward is heavy with life and death, and even for those whose stay is fleeting, that can often have a lingering effect. It was a case of the mumps that landed Why?'s Yoni Wolf on his back, a position he once described as "good for the spine...
Why? is someone's favorite band. Over four LPs, Yoni Wolf's Oakland-based quartet has built up a dedicated congregation for its obtuse blend of indie rock groove and alt-rap naval gazing. Wolf tells stories in mysterious ways, making you giggle, squirm, and philosophize. Mumps, Etc. offers his most ….