Reviewing a Why? album isn’t an easy task. You can’t expect a lot of diversity between albums, or even songs — although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Why? has developed a solid formula, yet it manages to sound unlike any other band out there, mixing stiff indie-rock loops, weird confessional raps, and an energy that is both awkward and laid-back.
For me the main criterion for a good Why? record is the lyrics. Mumps, etc., the group’s fifth full-length, has its fair share of standout word jumbles — I know with no uncertainty/that I’m uncertain and I don’t know, Yoni Wolf raps on “Kevin’s Cancer.” But the phrases that really get me are the clunky, straightforward ones that seem to be saying more than what they’re literally saying. Take this one from “Jonathan’s Hope”: I don’t have to pull a shitty fortune from a desert/like the piss-poor son of a serf/to know what I’m worth. It’s good poetry, all told, though it doesn’t stack up to the brilliant lyrics packed on Why?’s 2008 masterpiece Alopecia.
To its credit, there are some elements of other styles creeping up on Mumps, etc., mixed in with the usual bag of tricks: Eighties-influenced upbeat pop (“Sod in the Seed”), a bit of chamber-pop (“Thirst”), and some dreamy cello psychedelia (“Waterlines”). But where Mumps, etc. shines most is on the tracks that sound the most familiar: the stiff, not-exactly-hip-hop, not-exactly-indie-rock classic Why? formula, as on “White English,” “Bitter Thoughts,” and “Jonathan’s Hope.” It’s a mix that works every time. (Anticon Records)