Review: Mumps, Etc. - WHY?

You have to wonder, once in a while, just what is going on in Yoni Wolf’s head when he writes lyrics. Mumps, etc. is another delicate, despondent slice of inspired indie-hop from Wolf - styled, as he has been with his band for eight years, as WHY? - which feels like a rebirth for the group. 2009’s Eskimo Snow leant towards indie more comfortably than Wolf would have preferred, and the new record is a return to form, bitter and angry and deformed and fragmented and wonderful, an endless stream of defined, colourful melancholy, celebrating its own contrast before spiralling into deep, dark hate.

Mumps, etc. is a schizophrenic work, an album of two halves. The first half is a stream of experimentation and free-flowing creativity, all off-beat drum snaps, delicate piano twinkles and boisterous kicks. Jonathan’s Hope reads like a personal rebirth for Wolf, down but not out, his hope “a white dove on the hood of a two-ton truck”, hell-bent for armageddon; Strawberries is a cute, warm trip through rose-tinted regrets.

His voice rises and falls from bitter slurring, endlessly dictating as if straight from his mind, to a temperate baritone for the choruses, composing himself momentarily before he lets rip again. Way High on Highway carries his bitter gloom through an inner-city dirge of abuse, White English the reggae-tinged cousin, laid-back rather than driven in its anger.

If the second half of this audio breakdown is the spiralling collapse into chaos, Sod In The Seed is the perfect peak between Wolf’s fragmented states of mind. The incredible highlight of the entire album, it’s a mocking protest against first-world problems and the battle for modern hipster credibility. Hybrids, Macbooks, health-food markets and the fucked-up modern celebrity culture are gouged on his blunt knife as he spits “Well if I’m out of luck, I’m still pitching notes through this throat/Pissing fears and hopes through the ears of folks listening/No matter what, batter up enough of this nonsense” - that frankly, he’s doing what he does, so fuck you.

Wolf’s mind - his carefully articulated, pre-planned thoughts - delicately descend into a deliberately vulnerable second act of loneliness, longing - Distance, Thirst - and morality. Death, over and over again, crops up, whether it seeps its way into the unknowns of Kevin’s Cancer - “I know with no uncertainty that I’m uncertain and I don’t know” - or the purposeful closure of As A Card, the Reaper creeps into Wolf’s persona (if it is a persona, and not a purely autobiographical outlet) with predictable regularity, but it is second only to his love of bitter, guilty anger and hate.

The pairing of Bitter Thoughts and Paper Hearts is rueful, disguised as anger. The former feels like an explosion of all gone before: amplified, and yet controlled and composed, backing vocals seemingly playing off as some kind of anti-voice, dispelling the words gone before; “The guilt-racked liar pretends to confess,” she sings over summer-day pipes, before Wolf steps in again to continue carefully, conscientiously eyeballing the mic.

Paper Hearts is a full teenage diary worth of sorrow, an anti-ballad of doubt and worry, transfiguring into a denial-tinged rant of fury and endless, well-spun turns of phrase, Wolf holding the entire song together with his curious ability to spit as if reciting from thought rather than from lyric sheet. He’s the stroppy hipster at a dark New York pier, hooded sweater pulled over his head and over his eyes, spitting out chunks of sea salt and battling against the wind.

What Mumps, etc. appears to lack in structure it makes up for in sheer power and emotional weight, an endless, almost seamless stream of diatribes and rants, poured out effortlessly onto a forty minute spool of rich imagery and the illusion of happiness, skimmed across like the sun kisses cloud before a storm gathers. It’s a storm disguises as an approaching clear sky, raining down when your defences are low and cleansed of nostalgic warmth. Whatever is going on in Yoni Wolf’s head, it produces unclean, perhaps untidy music - and yet, it is modern, dirty, honest, unkempt, bitter and weathered poetry, and nothing less than that will suffice for a man potentially as tortured as he makes himself out to be when hiding from his producers inside a recording booth.