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Why?, Mumps, Etc.

Album Review

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Dropping dark limericks is a staple in Why?'s music. But the Ohio band's 2012 full-length, Mumps, Etc., trades guitar riffs for hand clapping and punchy percussion. Yet no matter how peppy the 13-track album's instrumentation may sound, it's not a saccharine pop record.

As with most of his writing, mortality is a surety singer Jonathan "Yoni" Wolf can't stop sweating. He vilifies a life wasted on "cash worship," urges listeners to let "the dusty curtain" close on his final performance and during the song "Paper Hearts," Wolf confesses: "During sex I might put us in some joke positions / but it's scary always how we end up in missionary."

On "Waterlines," golden harp serves as the introduction, and the most jarring sound in the rest of the track is a woodblock used as soft punctuation in the chorus. But make no mistake, the song ends with a hand-wringing refrain from Wolf in juxtaposition: "I'd prefer to be some unknown with a sports car / than pen the dumb pun poems as a poor star." Then Wolf describes seeing a hypothetical son run to him clutching a perfect report card.

Wolf told Spin magazine the song "Strawberries" was inspired by his grandmother, and includes an image of a weed-smoking senior, her hair in curlers. "That's how I'll live when I quit my rap career," he sings. "Let her laughter pass the rafters and go out into the atmosphere."

Mumps, Etc. relies less on dark, abstract imagery than previous albums, and more on Wolf, the man. "It took me 30 years to learn my patterns," he sings on "Jonathan's Hope," suggesting he's aware of the transformation, as well.

In all, Mumps, Etc. is an album of pensive soul-searching driven by a catchy, new sound. And though Wolf declares that the listener will never "get right close to Jonathan Avram Wolf," his writing on this album allows just that.

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