Release Date: Mar 3, 2017
Record label: Joyful Noise
It's been quite a wait since 2012's Mumps, Etc LP. Those following WHY? frontman Yoni Wolf's musical output will be aware that he has kept himself very busy in the interim, firstly with his ex as part of the cunningly titled Divorcee, and then with Chicago rapper MC Serengeti as indie-rap duo Yoni & Geti. However, this return with his band mates in WHY? sees an older and wiser Wolf broadening the band's alternative, indie-rap sound.
The mysteriously titled Moh Lhean is the sixth studio album and Joyful Noise Recordings debut for style-bending indie rock project Why? It shares its unexplained name with the home studio of its main man, loquacious lyricist Yoni Wolf, who produced the album along with his brother/frequent collaborator Josiah Wolf. The first album since Why?'s debut to be wholly home-recorded, it's still rich in sound and feels typically spontaneous for Wolf, if with a weightier, more reflective tone than in the past. That's not to say Why? has lost its playfulness.
Yoni Wolf's journey from his left-field hip hop beginnings in cLOUDDEAD some 15 years ago to today has been fascinating -- and troubling to those who enjoy easy genre descriptors. On Moh Lhean, his sixth solo album and first not on Anticon, Wolf has come closest to producing a batch of songs that could be described as "universal" or "accessible," with his most poignant and least outwardly weird lyrics yet. Here, he touches on yoga, meditation, breakups, ill health and suburban rhyme flow, among other things. What has remained the same is Wolf's fine ear for orchestration.
In times like these you come to know art, especially music, as a sanctuary. You appreciate it more; you bask in the playfulness; and you the delight in the importance it can take on. Moh Lhean is particularly successful at hitting this mood, right at the sweet spot, transporting you to a new plane instantly. It is WHY? 's sixth album, after a four year chunk of time away from the project and goes back to the start as the first fully home-recorded album since their debut. WHY? have always mined depths much deeper than most of the their contemporaries and Moh Lhean is no exception.
The end of WHY? had never been too far from Yoni Wolf's thoughts. On 2008's Alopecia , Wolf brought his finest album to a peak by confessing to "coffin rehearsal" and ended it with his neck in a telephone cord noose. He repeated the trick on Mumps, etc. 's closer "As a Card," and it felt like a grim confirmation of WHY?'s suicide note--Wolf spent most of it airing out his most noxious personal baggage and speaking about his "rap career" like a job from which he was begging to get fired so he wouldn't have to quit.
Though Yoni Wolf always employs as many instruments as he can get his crooked fingers on, few of the sounds are unnecessary. From the toy pianos on Oaklandazulasylum to the full strings on his latest opus as WHY?, Moh Lhean, there's care and attention in his arrangements. You could blame this on his wonderful list of collaborators. But, only his brother Josiah joined him for production, and they are here proving that they've been the band's backbone all along.
Resignation isn't hinted at in the words sung here by WHY?'s Yoni Wolf— one of indie's most under-celebrated lyricists— but woven extensively throughout. In the five years since the band's last, Wolf suffered a near-death experience that is said to have informed the accepting outlook heard on Moh Lhean, in lyrics like "Always now/No before, after/Only this/There is no other," from lead single "This Ole King," or the chorus of "One Mississippi. " ("I know I've got to submit to/Whatever it is in control.
Somehow, we are approaching a decade since Why?'s 2008 masterpiece Alopecia and since then time has not been kind to them. They rushed the popular-yet-flawed Eskimo Snow a year later, and followed that later with the distinctly average Mumps, Etc. in 2012. It has been a shame to see a band who at one point in the middle of the previous decade were one of the most exciting prospects to come out of American Indie music.
On the refrain to 'The Barely Blur', the closing track of WHY's sixth album 'Moh Lhean', Yoni Wolf asks "hold on, what's going on?" It's a question he might have posed more than a few times recently, having gone through a severe health scare. His personal issues have understandably shaped the musical form of the album, from its production in his own studio alongside brother Josiah, to the inclusion of the voices of his doctors on 'Proactive Evolution'. However, Yoni doesn't wallow in his own problems or channel his frustrations into an angsty record that dramatically screams "WHY?" Instead, in a move away from some of his more self-deprecating humour, he's produced something much more languid and accepting of the situation he found himself in.
After nearly 20 years in the game, Yoni Wolf's lyrics are still ham-fisted. He's that friend who won't stop reciting bad slam poetry on YouTube - endearingly earnest, wordy as hell, giddily adding synonyms to the point of tautology. Not only is he "white, weak and blind" on 'Proactive Evolution', he's the "opposite of oxen." Y'know, because they're brown, strong and sighted? On 'This Ole King' we follow him "up skyward" and "down dirtward" - up where the up stuff is, down where the down stuff is.
On 2012's Mumps, Etc., WHY? leader Yoni Wolf talked about quitting his rap career. That's a loaded claim. Calling WHY? a hip-hop group is a stretch as much as it is true. Sure, Wolf speaks in patterned verses, but there's a lot more to mine from it than, say, the latest Big Sean record. Yoni ….