the triumphant return of Jonathan Avram Wolf & WHY?
Sod in the Seed
The titular track hits with an immediate and undeniable presence, the rapping earnest whilst acknowledging its own solipsism, the rhymes and lyrical acrobatics coming fast and landing with an aphoristic weight that their ironic and apparent off-handedness belies and any trepidation that the wait for new material has fostered is made moot in seconds. The pace slackens slightly with For Someone and The Plan, and while each has their share of the flair which Sod in the Seed promises, mostly in their lyrics they are much more sedate songs and feel slightly unadventurous as a result. Probable Cause, on the other hand, brings in a different musical flavour and a brief narrative in order to expand the EP’s aural palette and appeal beyond the relative safety of the previous offerings. Twenty Seven is probably the strangest inclusion here; it’s the best of the songs which aren’t bookending this release but it feels like a throwback to 2009’s Eskimo Snow, immediately overfamiliar. In some regards the tracks between Sod in the Seed and its opposite number, Shag Carpet, suffer a little from a sense of being interstitial, wedged in between a preview of the upcoming album and one of the most memorable arrangements that WHY? have created; the latter building up to a blunt confession of egotistically arrested sexual development over (very broadly)-orgiastic moans processed and shaped into an instantly memorable melody with breaks for the post-coital choral lulls and their hollow refrain: “What’s your name…?”
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Taking off where Shag Carpet ended, the songs on Mumps, Etc. build up around a polyphony of layered voices and Liz Hodson singing counterpoints which, alongside an orchestral turn of musical phrase, gives songs like Bitter Thoughts a hint of the wonderland-scope of Joanna Newsom even as the actual content turns to the confessions of murderers and musicians. No matter how beautiful the songs get then, and they are, often achingly and hypnotically so (even in the case of White English, whose slickness takes on the effect of pallid, waxy skin dripping with the sweat not of sex but of fever) WHY? are intent to dwell on, to almost revel in, a storied history of sicknesses and regrets. Mumps, Etc. pivots around the return of Sod in the Seed, repeated here as a moment of clarity as its chorus, “I’ll never shirk this first world curse…”, contextualises the singer’s genuine maladies and mocks the indulgence of imagined suffering. All of which, and a return to a hypochondriac’s self-regard, leads to the abrupt halt of Paper Hearts’ sudden lull and subsequent rise, tempo and tempers building and exploding into a fit of rage at the myriad suffers brought on and brought about by the ailing of a self-styled “minor star” before As a Card turns the album’s introspect and obsession with mortality and moral failings on its head; the song sulkily courting the spectre of death as the ultimate pique-play in a game of competitive tragedy, misfortune brinksmanship and the one-upmanship of comparative sorrows.
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