Will Schube swears your clique sounds like episode of Glee
It’s been strange watching Yoni Wolf mature from a disillusioned, heartbreaking/broken rapper into a full-on adult pop singer. The vulnerable, cynical, scathing Wolf seems to have disappeared as he approaches middle age, but his replacement, a podcast-making, transparent singer intent on bettering himself is a nice fit. For all his explicitly outward honesty as WHY?, Wolf has always felt oddly unapproachable—his persona suggesting a man crippled by his tell-all lyrical style, not freed by it. WHY?’s latest record, Mumps, Etc., wasn’t very good and also felt like the end of an era—Wolf’s spent time on his podcast talking about a new thematic direction in both his life and music. The album makes its audience feel bad for enjoying WHY?’s music—sort of like that Louis C.K. bit where a Starbucks barista makes C.K. feel as if he’s entered into the person’s home and demanded a cup of coffee. After Mumps’ failure, Wolf’s put himself out there in a serious way—embarking on multiple solo tours, engaging in the aforementioned (and highly entertaining) podcast, and now, releasing a covers tape of demo-ish takes on his favorite songs. The record costs ten bucks, which is a bit disappointing considering the bedroom feel to the affair, but there’s some genuine, honest goodness over the tape’s 12 tracks—hopefully a sign of departure from the weighing feeling associated with Mumps and late-era WHY?.
The tape kicks-off with “As I Went Out One Morning”, the Dylan track from John Wesley Harding. Wolf’s been performing this one for a while on his solo piano tours, but it’s nice to hear an updated version with Wolf’s trademark jangle. Dylan’s voice is actually a nice touchstone for Wolf’s melodic tendencies, considering the strange approachability of both—almost soothing in their respective quirks. He follows the Dylan track with a short take on Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You”, turning Ocean’s track into something ominous and downcast. The piano line resembles something Adele would release, and Wolf’s layered vocals are haunting and powerful. He takes on Pavement’s “Shoot the Singer” and brings soul and emotion to Stephen Malkmus’ typically deadpan delivery. The track’s chorus, “And in the morning light/You heard your ashtray tight/You can put it out/But I can’t put it out”, actually fits Wolf’s version better (blasphemy, I know)–the lyrics supported by his somber, yearning delivery.
The tape has a few misses, “Beast of Burden” is awkward when it lacks Mick Jagger’s erotic energy, and Wolf’s take on The National’s “Runaway” moves away from the track’s down-trodden demeanor and forces a smile onto a perpetual frown; a bit odd, considering Wolf’s penchant for the somber, but he tries to squeeze quirkiness out of a track that may very well be the exact opposite of quirky. His take on The Smiths’ “Half a Person” is the sort of somber “Runaway” calls for, with Wolf sounding so sad sounding it’s a miracle he’s able to get the words out.
Wolf’s Snowjams mixtape is properly named–there’s a hefty amount of sulk on the record–and the release is at its best when Wolf approaches these songs with the emotions they require. Such distinct songs don’t need innovative treatment, simple re-contextualization is more than enough.