On the heels of the wobbly Sod in the Seed EP and 2009’s altogether tepid Eskimo Snow, the new album from California indie hip-hop outfit Why? is a welcome surprise. While not exactly a return to the alternative rap dreamscapes of seminal debut Elephant Eyelash and sophomore effort Alopecia, lead vocalist Yoni Wolf and company have perhaps finally—and comfortably—split the difference between their fussily twee instrumentation and freestyle lyric delivery. As an added bonus, they’ve never hated themselves more.
“To be born is anything but this / the dying wish of a dinosaur’s dish / of no use / a shitty gift like a single slipper,” Wolf mutters in his characteristically nasal voice within the first thirty seconds of “Paper Hearts,” which, like many of the songs here and on Eskimo Snow features spare, pretty piano. But Mumps, Etc.’s beats are less schmaltz, more jangled skeleton. Making the burst of stately strings around the three-minute mark even stranger (not to mention lovelier). Well-titled dancehall reggae track “White English” slacks enjoyably, with Wolf doing what he does best: conjuring a lexically dense and often sinister stream of consciousness.
“Strawberries” is the sort of damaged, infectious art-pop at which The Unicorns excelled; it studs the mind with creepily whistled countermelodies and subversive bravado like “I don’t wear rubbers / And I don’t wear sunscreen.” We also hear that Wolf is haunted by things he said to school guidance counselors. If the jarring candor of his adult career is anything to go by, color me unsurprised. The take-away here, though: you’ve got to be weary of Top 40 musicians airbrushed and autotuned to perfection—treat yourself to an honest, shaggy mess now and then.
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