By Mark Jenkins
Friday, February 15, 2013
“Mumps, Etc.” is the second Why? album to be named for a medical condition (“Alopecia” came out in 2008). Given frontman Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf’s interest in such maladies, the California quartet’s style might be termed “hypochondriac hip-hop.” But its music is as much pop-folk as hip-hop, and some of the ailments Wolf details aren’t imaginary. “Kevin’s Cancer” is one of the album’s two tributes to departed friends.
Although his language can be profane and his self-revelations raw, Wolf doesn’t hide his upscale suburban background. His lyrics, whether rapped or sung, touch on Minoxidil, Garrison Keillor and an “Etruscan tchotchke” from a museum gift shop. Sickness and mortality are often on Wolf’s mind, but he treats them lightly. Refrains such as “I am not okay, boys” are delivered jauntily and set in arrangements that recall ’60s baroque-pop.
The most elaborately orchestrated of the group’s four studio albums, “Mumps, Etc.” incorporates strings and horns as well as backup vocals that playfully ape everything from opera to Gregorian chants. It also employs some harsher, more synthetic timbres, such as crackling beats and electro-stuttered vocals. More often, though, Wolf raps to piano and violins, which makes the band’s sound as unusual as its worldview.