WHY? - Mumps, etc.
I don't think it's much of an earth-shattering leap for me to go right ahead and say that Mumps, etc. is an album about sickness. There, I said it. Thematic arc established
WHY? have put together their first LP since 2009's brilliant Eskimo Snow and while that album wasn't exactly a complete departure from the norm, it was definitely less of a rap-centric collection of songs and more of a sickly-piano-based-almost-ballad type affair.
Mumps, etc. starts as it means to go on – 'Jonathan's Hope' sees Yoni Wolf's nasal baritone delivery slur one of the best opening lines to an album I've ever heard. As quotable as it is I won't spoil it for you - the impact is in listening to the verse cut through the introductory female vocals as if to abandon all hope of an easy, harmonious experience (much like actually having the mumps).
Mumps isn't the only illness dealt with in this half-hour burst of folk-rap. 'Strawberries' could be seen as a deceptively upbeat sounding track complete with handclaps and harmonised whistling. Only when the almost childlike refrain of "No I am not OK, boys" rings out as a chorus might you realise that this is a song about a lifelong battle with depression, and I probably don't need to tell you what 'Kevin's Cancer' might allude to.
Musically speaking, you can almost guess what you're going to get on a WHY? record. Minimalist percussive beats provide an effective backbone to every song, then piano phrases twinkle and bass lines flesh the whole thing out, but there's always a few surprises. A strumming acoustic guitar provides a constant subtle percussive element to the brilliant slow burning 'Way High on Highway 13' and towards the latter half of the record more off-kilter orchestral arrangements start to appear and subtly build up and complement the raging confessions of a sick man and his recovery until diminishing all together with penultimate track 'Paper Hearts' – a 4 minute staccato tirade of increased intensity. Anybody who was disappointed in Eskimo Snow's lack of hip-hop leanings will be more than appeased by the end of this track.
This is a somber album of reflection and recovery. Battling demons that ease off with time whilst coming to terms with some that can never be defeated. Yoni leaves us with the line "I'll hold my own death as a card in the deck to be played when there are no other cards left." On the strength of this album alone, I'd say WHY? still have a few good hands to play first.