Why?, Mumps, Etc.

Why?, <em>Mumps, Etc.</em>

Sometimes, you miss things; it can’t be helped, y’know? Only so much time in the day, only so much musical headspace to fill in.

That’s pretty much the reason I was nervous about the new album from Why?, Yoni Wolf’s onetime indie-hip-hop solo project that’s been a real-live band since, well, since the last time I actually hear him/them. See, the last Why? album I listened to was Oaklandazulasylum, way, way, way back in 2003, and that’s what had me reluctant now, as I stepped back into Wolf’s oddball little world.

Now, though, I’m sitting here stunned, enjoying the hell out of Mumps, Etc. and wishing I’d been paying attention to Wolf and his gang for the last decade. Fuck, how did I miss this? I’ve got no idea if Mumps, Etc. is similar to any of the band’s recent stuff, but if it is, I’ve got some crate-digging to do.

With this album, at least, Why? has mutated from that funny-headed rapper who’d cut his teeth in psychedelic hip-hop outfit cLOUDDEAD into something that’s damn near to pitch-perfect They Might Be Giants if the Johns dove headfirst into rap. It’s sweet and funny and smart, meandering along in a warm, self-effacing way as Wolf spills his soul, confessional-style — see “Strawberries,” where he declares, “The shit I said to high school counselors haunts me.”

The lyrics are nimble and quirky in the best damn way (on “Distance,” in particular), and Wolf shifts effortlessly between the rapping and actual sung vocals that bridge the gap between TMBG and early Dead Milkmen (and yeah, I mean that as a compliment). Meanwhile, the band — which consists of Wolf’s brother Josiah, Doug McDiarmid, and Liz Hodson — kind of does their own thing, resulting in genius moments like “Waterlines,” which juxtaposes Wolf’s somber, quasi-sentimental verses and delicately gorgeous, RenFest-like instrumentation. Think Aesop Rock fronting The Arcade Fire, and you’ll come close…

There’s a little bit of a resemblance to H-town’s Babel Fishh, pseudo-indie band Cake here (see “White English”), and even — no, seriously — the Beatles (“Kevin’s Cancer”) here, but I’m not sure any of this is really like anything else I’ve heard. Sage Francis has come near to it a few times, but he’s never been able to completely meld his rap personality and delivery with his backing band, not like this.

Yeah, I’ll admit it — I dropped the ball on this band. I wasn’t listening; I sure as hell am now.

(Feature photo by Aaron M. Conway.)

[Why? is playing 11/1/12 at Walter’s, along with The Black Swans & Naytronix.]
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Thursday, November 1st, 2012. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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