Celebrating the Superb Lyricism of WHY?

Josiah and Yoni Wolf and Doug McDiarmid are the exceptional three-piece that forms the band WHY?. They’re known for their incredibly infectious beats and clever lyrics–somehow never being completely hip-hop, but never being completely rock. They have a fan base tighter than a Brooklyn hipster’s skinny jeans and their live shows are widely known to be consistently full of energy and sincerity.

In celebration of WHY?’s upcoming full-length, Mumps, Etc. (Anticon), we wanted to highlight some of the band’s best lyrics from past releases. Many years in the making, Mumps, Etc. is the group’s fifth LP. It features Josiah’s wife Liz and boasts 13 tracks from the Cincinnati natives.

This article is the first of three that will touch on what makes WHY? lyrics so memorable, so inviting, so relatable. Zoe-Ruth Erwin from the California band Little Red Lung stepped up to give us and hand. THE BOMBER JACKET covered her band in one of our early issues, and we’ve been cyber friends ever since, partially due to our mutual affinities for WHY? (there are some days when we tweet WHY? lyrics back and forth to each other).

Without further ado:

Mortaring your earholes shut in a rush with wet coke

in a Starbucks bathroom with the door closed

on booze, I’m left in residue and confused

like the first time you used soft water

down on my luck, caught unaware

like Houdini when the last fist struck

–Lyrics from WHY?’s song “Good Friday” off the album Alopecia

Probably one of my favorite things about Yoni Wolfe’s writing in general is that he’s constantly hurling imagery at the listener–fast enough that there’s no time to hesitate in getting sucked right into the scene. So much so that, years later, I’m still listening to the first several records and really zero’ing in on lines here and there that I never grasped the full weight of before.

I love this set of lyrics because of, frankly, how gross they are. But at the same time relatable and incredibly tragic.

As I’m listening, the whole passage seems to revolve around the senses. He starts it off by plugging his ears and essentially making himself deaf. As a result, when he’s speaking the rest of the words in that half-cracked, defeated tone, the remaining senses of sight, taste, smell, touch all seem amplified and lash out right into the listener. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Thank God that isn’t me…”.

The reference to Houdini, however, is the most ingenious part. I love the fact that he re-personified this seemingly untouchable historical legend into an “everyman” status–to Yoni’s own status.

The connection he’s made between himself–a hopeless wreck who’s locked himself in an uncomfortably stainless steel and beige-tiled Starbuck’s bathroom, sitting drunk in front of a pile of coke, sticky with its snail trail–and Houdini, a legend whose demise was a result of something as unnecessary and anticlimactic as some kid punching him in the gut before he had a chance to brace for it… It’s a perfect combination of characteristics.

This is a prime example of Yoni walking a fine line lyrically, asking the listener to be either disgusted or touched. What makes him brilliant is that, most of the time, it’s both.

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Comments

  1. The Why? lyric tweeting will remain ongoing until Twitter shuts one of us down.

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