Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Why? - Mumps Etc

If there was ever a sub-genre which reeked of posh kids slumming it, it’s indie hip-hop. Even the name of this Californian quartet comes across as a second-hand, smart-aleck jibe. Back in 2001 the Strokes asked us ‘Is This It?’ but came good with a debut which was not only definitely ‘It’ but possibly re-defined what ‘It’ was. On the other hand, as a moniker, Why? topples precariously on the line between glib cleverness and writing their own epitaph.

Primarily the output of Ohioan producer, label owner and provocateur Jonathan ‘Yoni’ Wolf, Why? deal in sunny sounding but abstract snapshots of an intelligent American youth. Opener ‘Jonathan’s Hope’ teases with a bucolic humming and delicate piano but spins into a mind-warping tour into a world of doves, deathbeds and disease, alternating crudeness and crooning.

From a web of percussion and delicate piano Wolf and his bandmates are just about capable of spinning out a pleasant tune but these are too often fleeting moments of lucidity between his rapping. Lyrically dextrous he may be but too often he comes across as a snarky tourist with the unappealing nasal tone of a bored high school kid. The whistling assisted ‘Strawberries’ offers a heady mix of the confessional and the crude ‘I don’t wear rubbers and I don’t wear sunscreen’ but its ‘I’m not ok’ refrain feels lazy and trite and there’s not a lot else that appeals to either head or heart.

Sometimes this is twisted to his advantage such as on “Way High on Highway 13” in which he uses the solid rhythms of hip-hop to complement a shifting roadtrip through his own psyche but even on these occasions he sounds like Ben Folds’ parody of a suburban teenager. The general themes seems to be mortality and alienation from a world in which everyone else ‘in their late 20’s just wants to make money’ but ‘Mumps Etc’ finds our privileged narrator yearning for the conventional lifestyle and ‘kid with the best report card’. It’s a interesting dichotomy but not one that’s explored with any real insight. Lyrically, the finest moment is ‘Thirst’ which finds Wolf picking through the detritus of his basement in search of some object which will connect him to the world around but ultimately he doesn’t find any answers and ‘Mumps Etc’ is too insular to make riding shotgun on his journey any fun.

So at the end of this musical odyssey there’s one very important question the band have to answer: Why?


Max Sefton

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