Why? – Mumps, etc.
‘Mumps, etc.’ is a curious artefact of the indie generation. Why? are well known for their ingenious mixture of indie-folk with hip-hop, but this album in particular shows the bizarre and exotic fruits of such a marriage. There are smooth, jazz inspired backing tracks perfectly counter-weighting the mumblecore rap of lead man Yoni Wolf, who earnestly writes about his own depression, childhood, and music career. Think Fun Lovin’ Criminals with A-levels.
For there can be no denying that this is the Wolf show. Wolf himself used to be an act with the stage name of Why?, and it seems that the subsequent band has formed entirely around his central presence. Wolf manages the quite difficult talent of pulling off monotone, almost disinterested, vocals that somehow pack a hefty emotional punch, much akin to the dry sarcastic Joey Ramone style. There’s an honest level of self-doubt and lonely paranoia that echoes through the album, with enough wit and, sometimes, dark humour to sustain itself at that level of darkness. This pierces through during “Distance”, with the line ‘I’ve got to keep my distance / to withstand the silence when you’re missing / when you’re not there to listen to this nonsense’, which is delivered with Wolf’s trademark nasal flair.
“Jonathan’s Hope” starts the album and dictates the pace for what’s to come; slow rap with a hard edge and melodic chorus that playfully disrupts the song’s tempo. A complaint could be levelled at the album for being one-paced, but I think my earlier Ramones comparison was apt: there’s a unifying sense of cohesion, the opener rises and falls into “Strawberries” which in turn melts into the next song, each picking up where the former left off and exploring just enough from the album’s path to make it a complex and multi-faceted venture. The album has the song structure of a well-crafted concept album.
Flamboyance is ripe throughout, with harps, pianos, and various orchestral instruments peering through the smoky background, offering a mystical sweeping soundscape; horns blare up on “White English” and violins creep around for “Bitter Thoughts”. The album lasts a joyously short thirty-four minutes, which I understand must sound like I’m damning with faint praise, but it’s quick, punches hard and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The stand-out tracks of the album are the opening “Jonathan’s Hope”, the haunting “’Bitter Thoughts” and the closing love letter to death “As a Card”. To extract individual songs is however doing a disservice to a well-conceived, paced, and beautifully executed whole-album experience. There’s something interesting going on in this corner of the musical world, and you’d be a fool to miss out.