Celebrating the Superb Lyricism of WHY?, PART II

In continuation of celebrating WHY?’s upcoming full-length, Mumps, Etc. (Anticon), we are again highlighting the band’s best lyrics from past releases. As stated in the last issue, 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 second of three that will touch on what makes WHY? lyrics so memorable, so inviting, so relatable. This piece is written by Tara Freelander from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ms. Freelander currently lives and studies in Paris, where she will be seeing the band play live next weekend.


I was introduced to WHY ? about two and a half years ago. I wish I had discovered their music sooner, because now that I have started listening to them I haven’t been able to stop. Yoni Wolf’s lyrics are so intelligently formulated and catchy and bizarre that I just can’t get enough. I am aware that I am quite a newbie to WHY ?’s fan base, and most (NOT ALL) of the music I know and love is from his 2008 album, Alopecia, but that does not mean that I don’t love and appreciate the music and the amazing imagery that unfolds as I hear it.

WHY? Has something really special. Between Yoni, his brother Josiah, Josiah’s now-wife Liz, and Doug, no topic is left safe from their musical genius. Wolf’s is the wizard behind the curtain of lyrics; the rest of the group’s members are the masterminds making beautiful music to accompany his vocals and lyrics perfectly. From indie folk, to hip-hop and to rock, they can and do, do it all. I’d like to reference three different songs I know well and hold dear to my heart.

The first WHY? song I ever had the pleasure of hearing was “Rubber Traits.”

I should cut down my caloric intake
I should go to sleep hungry
And wake up with my guts knotted up
And ears open like a burnt down hut

I never know what Wolf was actually thinking when he wrote any of his lyrics but I always take something away from them. I can’t help but think about all of the starving people in Africa (and all over the world) when I hear that part of the song. To me these verses are Wolf saying how important it is to recognize what you have, and try to feel what it’s like to be in the exact opposite position. Perhaps that’s not at all what he meant but it’s what I took from it and I think that is something Wolf wants with his music.

To some people, WHY?’s lyrics are nonsensical, while to others they are completely relatable. No matter what you personally think, they are definitely interesting and seem to bear a lot of meaning for each person individually.

Through a toilet stall divider
I swear, I care
God, am I an example of a calculated birth
To a star chart for clowns?

Yoni Wolf’s lyrics are full of metaphors. This specific part of “The Vowels Pt. 2” reminds me of the disconnect people seem to have with each other. It is so easy to be absolutely cruel to another person and at the same time feign friendship and concern when hiding behind something such as the Internet.  The second part of this excerpt perhaps is a little more vague, but I somehow feel as if I, as well as many of their fans, can relate. We’ve all felt like our lives are some sort of a cruel joke for others to laugh at, haven’t we?

Wolf’s lyrics all seem to have reoccurring themes. WHY? fans will be able to point out words and verses that are repeated in numerous songs and albums. Two main themes I tend to enjoy are death/suicide, and love/sex.

I’m lucky to be under
This same sky that held
The exhale from your first breath
Like a ring on a pillow of clouds

These verses from “Fatalist Palmistry” have to do with love, or at least liking someone. If Yoni Wolf, or anyone for that matter, said anything remotely as romantic and thoughtful as this I would have to marry them on the spot. I don’t know how he does it, but Wolf has a way of making any concept–mundane or depressing–beautiful.



–Tara Freelander

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