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Why? 'Mumps, etc.'

Illness Begets Licensed-to-Illness

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Why? 'Mumps, etc.'

Why? 'Mumps, etc.'


His Rap Career

When last we heard from Why? confessionalist Yoni Wolf, he was making the "least hip-hop" album of his career. Eskimo Snow, the 2009 sister-set to 2008's great Alopecia, circled the same lyrical themes that Wolf has been forever stalking —endless neuroses, basically— but did so entirely sung; Wolf putting away his nasal, sneering flow to carol quietly over sad piano ballads.

For his fifth album, Wolf is back rapping; or, at least, his own approximation of it. "Sod in the Seed" and "Jonathan's Hope" both reintroduced listeners to Wolf on the prowl, and the latter opens this LP with a smirking study of disease, dead birds, and deathbeds; another confessional in a career of them (and joining "By Torpedo or Chron's" as making Wolf's penchant for overshare of the bodily, disease-riddled kind). Both Wolf brothers —Yoni and offsider Josiah— contracted mumps mid a European tour in 2008, and, eventually, the feeling of fighting off illness lead both Wolf brothers to relocate to Ohio, after 15 years in the Bay.

Mumps, etc., is a catalog of that time, and is the sound of Wolf getting his swagger back; he refers to his "rap career" at one point. Sure, he's still talking about his "life-long bouts with depression," too ("I am not okay, boys," he sings, blithely, on "Strawberries"), but after the frozen sadness of Eskimo Snow, hearing his rapid-fire rhymes set against the deep bottom-end and curiously-orchestrated arrangements is like watching him shadowbox. Mumps have not felled this man.

His Modicum of the Truth

The orchestrations on Mumps, etc. come partly from the members of Why?, who play an array of intricate percussion instruments as well as the regular piano/keys/guitar/bass/drums. There's also kids from the North Texas music school; who were recruited whilst the album was recorded in Denton, Texas. There's horns on "White English," strings on "Bitter Thoughts," a harp on "Waterlines," and vocal harmonies throughout from Josaiah's wife, Liz Wolf.

Yet, even if the instrumentation colors recent Why? records, anyone listening is listening for Yoni's lyrics. "Men and women might yet quote his modicum of the truth/but they will never get right close to Jonathan Ovrim Wolf," Wolf says, coming across a question I once asked him as he embraces his quotablity amongst fans. And, after Mumps, etc., they've got a whole new record to quote from.

"Hidden down in a pyre of smoke of old movie posters," Wolf begins, in a hilarious riff mid-"Thirst," "G4 motherboards with '90s porn in their cache, and barber's trash, mixed in with the light-floating paper-ration rest, is only just some more smoke rising. No fleeting omen for your eyes only waiting, no ancient mystic spirits rising, or transluscent sage ghosts calmly speaking truths." It's funny, beautiful, and scathing at once; the contrast between man's desire for profundity and his ultimate legacy, refuse, finding profundity at the landfill.

Elsewhere, there's more of Wolf's familiar oeuvre: uncomfortable confessions ("I don't wear rubbers and I don't wear sunscreen"), relationship post-portems (the entirety of the staccato "Paper Hearts"), constant ruminations on mortality, and a catalog of conflicts and contradictory feelings (try: "preemptive nostalgia of the possible but doubtful"). If Eskimo Snow felt like a flirtation with death, Mumps, etc. is an attempt to claw back at life, and embracing it in all its idiocy, its decay, and its dopeness.

Record Label: Anticon
Release Date: October 9, 2012

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