No question sets us free more than “why not?” It releases inhibitions and allows us to gift ourselves some exemption from guilt. Usually, the phrase is in response to doing something questionable; it is often prefaced with an “eh.” Minneapolis-based math punk trio Why Not more than live up to their titular question on their new EP.
The group broke out last year through sheer force of will (the supremely good tunes probably helped, too). They relentlessly played local underground shows and kept up a steady flow of new music. Their sophomore album “Spring Cleaning” presented an advanced version of the band, with flashier instrumentals, stronger songwriting and flat-out better songs. Then came the late August release of “Ready 4 the World.”
The song boasts an incredible production list. It was recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, which is managed by Jody Stephens, drummer of Big Star (the band recorded all four of their studio albums there). Caleb Hinz (of Minneapolis bands the Happy Children and Baby Boys) handled nearly all of the production-related business. The fact that an underground punk band from Minneapolis could bring together such incredible names is baffling in the best way.
What makes all of this better is that the song is a completely insane banger. As I said in my original write-up on Ear Coffee, “The bass is liquid, the guitar is almost ska-like during the verses and the drums are so punchy that they might just KO a Nazi.” It’s half punk meltdown, half stoner-doom dirge. It might not be the band’s first single, but it reasserts them as a serious musical force to be reckoned with.
The EP’s second track “Your Moind” emphasizes the “math” part of their sound. The band slaloms around in a typical way for the genre. Joshua MacGregor drums underneath the crashing guitars but still absolutely freaks out. His insanity infects bassist/vocalist Henry Breen and guitarist Isaac Dell and the last third of the song is consumed with heaviness and screaming (two of my favorite things to find in a punk song).
Penultimate song “Thud. Dead.” finds the band delving into storytelling-via-song. During an interview with Back to the City’s Simon Calder, the band revealed that it took inspiration from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. A factory worker begins burning to death and hurls themselves from an upper-level window to escape the agony – very lighthearted stuff! The song’s refrain is equally uplifting – “I’m turning into ashes.” The track concludes with a brief freak-out and eerie silence.
Since I’ve been sucked into the song-by-song review vortex, I suppose I should mention the closing track, “Eighth Year.” As mentioned in Ear Coffee’s original review of the EP, “Eighth Year” feels like a spiritual sequel to “Ready 4 the World.” The same naturalistic themes reoccur, and the anything-goes spirit extends fully. At nearly 11 minutes, every idea is given at least a moment of unbroken attention. It is the band’s thesis statement. They careen from downbeat indie rock to sputtering pinpricks of guitar noise to experimental soundscapes (and that’s only in the first half). It echoes Pink Floyd and Ty Segall at the same time. Every idea is given the Why Not treatment. Intense attention to detail is given to every tiny, seemingly unimportant moment on both the production and composition side of things. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but if you combine the storytelling of “Thud. Dead.” with the experimental/prog rock hallmarks of “Eighth Year,” we might get Why Not’s very own “2112.” No matter what, I can’t wait.
Not every band gets better with time, but Why Not have made a massive stride forward with “EP.” Every aspect of the band is turned up to 11 and blown up without any regard for the consequences. If such a creative and varied release seems too intimidating, just ask yourself one question – why not?