WHY? – Moh Lhean Review


Yoni Wolf downplays his penchant for relating gross personal details in favor of more focused poetic expression.
Joyful Noise Recordings, 2017
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7.8 / 10

Ever since the experimental rapper known as WHY? opened up the moniker to incorporate a full band, their output has been evenly split between hip-hop with a glaring asterisk and an obscure sub-subgenre of folk yet to be identified. The ensemble excels at producing lush, percussive soundscapes, which sometimes interfere with mastermind Yoni Wolf’s ability to wax irreverent over a bare-bones electronic drumbeat. The result is often a bilingual confusion of the two unestablished ideas, or perhaps a deliberate language of creative in-jokes devised by a troupe of theater kids in order to diffuse the tensions embedded in drama, their sole reason for congregation.

As the moniker nears its third decade of incongruous output fueled by the perverse fantasies and recollections of their chief songwriter (edit: “mastermind” tends to belittle other equally-apt denominations for Wolf’s taboo mental activity), WHY? appears to be dwindling into the undiluted Yoni of yore in the wake of populous performances prompted by 2012’s Mumps, etc., featuring backing female vocals and a plurality of percussionists. Moh Lhean, their sixth studio album, presents the man who’s previously penned verses about wanking in art museums at his most vulnerable, downplaying his penchant for relating gross personal details in favor of more focused poetic expression.

Before Lhean’s premature lheak, we were presented with the album’s gently brooding opener “This Ole King,” which elicits the piano-driven warmth of 2009’s Eskimo Snow sans the leftover instrumental fills from the previous year’s Alopecia. What’s most surprising about the track is its Zen vocalist’s repeated dedication to the present moment, a new “only now” philosophy at odds with decades of recalling shameful memories and dismal projections of the future. This sample proves a suitable preview to Wolf’s least loquacious release to date, populated with brief, repeated lines complemented by only a few episodes of PG-13 body horror and surreal scenes of touring Alcatraz and hitching limos through graveyards.

Despite Yoni’s introspection, this isn’t a relapse into disparate bedroom pop stitched together as haphazardly as its convoluted title suggests – Lhean boasts production credits on each of its ten tracks from percussionist and big brother Josiah Wolf, as well as cameos by mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss (“Proactive Evolution”) and Son Lux (“The Barely Blur”). Yet the entire album carries the fragility and gloss of Ryan Lott’s early minimalist experiments (the piano intro on “Easy” exhibits particular breakability), and the atmospherics of Weiss’ post-rock ethos escort the dreamlike interludes to their succeeding numbers (an audio recording of Yoni’s doctor punctuating “Evolution” is particularly ominous).

It’s telling that the majority of the band’s releases are dedicated to either physical maladies or enigmatic Yoniisms (note: don’t mention “elephant eyelashes” in front of your parents in the off chance they speak Yoniese) as the band balances bodily anxiety with innovative wordplay effortlessly. Moh Lhean falls exclusively under the latter category, as Yoni appears relatively (and almost unrecognizably) at ease on each track. The distinguishing characteristics of the album appears to be a newfound existential patience and an acceptance of perpetual incompletion best exemplified on the confidently unfinished chorus of “George Washington,” as well as an allusion to the underdeveloped interlude “The Longing is All” earlier in the track. Though Lhean continues the band’s legacy of falling short of hip-hop, folk pop, and any other preconceived denomination, there’s no doubt Wolf shows signs of the group’s proactive evolution.