It’s been just under 20 years since Yoni Wolf coined the name WHY? as he entered the music scene while at the University of Cincinnati. In 2003, Yoni’s debut album Oaklandazulasylum put him in the limelight, even earning Pitchfork’s Best New Music. Since then, Yoni has picked up a band for himself, and their work has been in a steady decline, with their last album given a mere 3/10 by the same outlet that once praised them. WHY? has not lost hope, and as a last effort they’ve taken the past four years creating Moh Lhean as an attempt at redemption.
After 13 years as a band, and countless bad reviews among their previous albums, WHY? should be on their last leg, but “This Ole King” shows a rejuvenation that was never expected. A solo blues guitar suddenly erupts into a crescendo of musical fervor, and WHY? makes a statement that they are ready to reclaim their name with this song. Delivering a short but exciting chorus, Wolf’s vocals are entrancing as ever. Layered just underneath that, Liz Wolf’s voice entwines with Yoni’s to create an incredible introduction to the album.
Not all of WHY?’s past has been riddled in failure, their second studio album Alopecia was met with high reviews, and they channel that same energy on the track “Proactive Evolution”. Wolf’s casual style of rapping is perfectly encapsulated in the breaks, leading into great transitions to the chorus. Following in suit with their previous established styles, this song switches tempo and pitch, and will go from rather dark and belligerent vocals to a sudden stream of contended woodwinds. WHY? likes to create a sense of chaos in their songs, and it’s in that chaos that they start to thrive.
The album has two interlude tracks, “January February March,” and “The Long is All,” both acting as prefaces for their following tracks. They may not be much, but these two tracks give us insight into the changes of the band. The last time a preface like this was used was on Alopecia’s “Twenty Eight,” and even then it was really just a ‘de-stress’ track for Wolf to let loose with a few bars. With these two tracks we see that WHY? is a more cohesive band, with a better sense on how to construct their album, and how they’re taking a risk they never have before.
“George Washington” is something like something we’ve never seen before. It’s got a soothing chorus, great melodies, and most importantly, Yoni Wolf actually seems to be happy while singing. Wolf’s vocals, while they are good, tend to be rather monotonous and dull, so hearing this is a very nice change of pace.
A lightly-strummed guitar accompanies Wolf as he spills it all out on “Consequence of Nonaction.” Keeping in line with the sudden jumps WHY? is known to take, the track goes from a soft solo, to what seems like a collision of free-form jazz artists and a slam poetry night.
Moh Lhean ends on “Barely Blur” with guest vocals from Son Lux. It’s a decent track, but it ends the album on such a somber tone. “Hold on, what’s going on?” is repeated through the song, foreshadowing the future of WHY?, because as Wolf has reached his second decade in his musical career, it’s a mystery as to what he is to do next.
Even after four EPs and now being on their fifth studio album, WHY? have still not figured out how to create a masterpiece. Moh Lhean has shown that the band is out of their slump, and on their way to the top, but they’re still not quite there. Songs like “Easy”, and “The Water”, as good as they are, just don’t leave you with that lasting impact as their other tracks do. Wolf showed great change in “George Washington”, and it worked incredibly well, but on many other tracks his vocal delivery fails to show what his true capability is. However, with all of its faults, Moh Lhean still stands as a good piece of music, and one of WHY?’s best.