Friday, March 3, 2017

Why? - Moh Lhean Review

Alternative music is a label about as obsolete and pointless as one could muster. It's right up there with Indie in terms of general meaninglessness. However, if we're to use those definers literally, no band adheres to the basic principles of both more strongly than Why?. Regardless of how narrow their approach may become, the group led by Yoni Wolf never ceases to stray from the normality of music any chance they get. What started out as a pinnacle of left-field Hip-Hop, with Wolf's original creation cLOUDDEAD, and Why?'s first handful of albums, has slowly turned towards the gooey land of Indie and Folk Pop. As Wolf's musical tastes shifted, as did his music. And really, can you blame him? While many discount Why?'s recent endeavors, like 2009's Eskimo Snow and 2012's Mumps, Etc., for lacking skill in a genre Wolf wasn't bred on, I'd never condemn an artist for making the music they wish. And as was found on 2016's phenomenal collaboration Testarossa, Wolf's eclectic brand of Pop can work given a concrete creative outlet. With Moh Lhean though, Wolf returns to what's now become his safe haven; off-kilter Indie Pop. In typical Why? fashion, it's dreamy, jumbled, and excessively impenetrable.

In the early days of Abstract Hip-Hop, it was cool to not make any sense at all. With a few other names to boot, like Busdriver, Aesop Rock, and Edan, Why? became one of the early provisioners of throwing the thesaurus at the wall and seeing what stuck. Hyper-literacy became a thing, the obsessive glamorization a touting point for those who smugly rejected the low-brow amateurisms of early-2000's mainstream Pop Rap. Nowadays, unless you're a diehard fan, dissecting every line in Wolf's infinitely-complex web seems needlessly futile. If the album's title wasn't enough evidence, the same applies here too. The trove of perplexing non-sequiturs that boil over Moh Lhean's excess makes it a truly difficult listen for those interested in deciphering Wolf's latest lyrical maze. Time and time again I caught myself reading into the lines, only to emerge more confused than before. At times, even spelling out the words does no good as simple Wolfisms prove challenging even to the English language ("untethered layers, so thin as paper, let them all like vapor, dissipate, integrate, when they hit air"). Considering how pivotal knowing Wolf's personal dilemmas is to understanding Moh Lhean, it's clear the project's best suited for avid Why? listeners.

This goes without mentioning Wolf's distinctive voice, something that's been his greatest asset and strongest downfall since singing took precedent. That nasal, it's unavoidable. If you aren't a fan within 'This Ole King's' first few moments, nothing beyond will alter that. Because, as is typically the case with Indie Pop, melody plays a vital role on Moh Lhean, but thanks to Wolf's vocals, his lyrical intricacies, and lack of unblemished structural fine-tuning, even pretty moments here turn awkward fast. While almost every song flows into each other with succinct transitions, the same can't be said for what occurs within respective tracks. Collisions can be found in 'One Mississippi,' 'George Washington,' and even one of Moh Lhean's better tracks, 'This Ole King,' that cause potentially cute moments to be scarred with jarring sonic juxtapositions. That's par for the course when it comes to Why?, but that still doesn't neglect the fact that over-complications are present and ruin the simplicity synonymous with Indie Pop. Unfortunately, even when Why? promotes relative straightforwardness ('The Barely Blur,' 'The Water'), the result is less than stellar and suitably forgettable. The former is of noticeable misuse because it actually features one of my current Art Pop favorites Son Lux.

In fact, whether consciously or not, another track here bears resemblance to Son Lux's stripped down production style. It just so happens to be the best song on Moh Lhean as well. That, of course, is 'Proactive Evolution,' the album's second single which dazzles with multi-layered percussion that Wolf dances over emphatically. Ironic or not, you can decide, Wolf's singing on 'Proactive Evolution' is the closest he gets to actually rapping here, and that much is evident in the way certain words bounce off the drums and background vocals. Even the unnecessary finale, which finds scattered voices in Wolf's life coming back to fruition, can't reduce the standout's worth. Even though there's not any other remarkable moments like 'Proactive Evolution,' the album's overall length and modesty shouldn't detract those curious in testing the waters. Excluding two interludes which don't add much substance to Moh Lhean's palate apart from being name-checked in the ensuing songs, there's only eight songs here, and they all fall in the three to four-minute range. That severely hampers experimentation within the structuring, but at this stage, with Why? comfortably in their own lane, it feels as if they're fine resisting the urge to divert again.

Theoretically, that's not a good thing, as the band could benefit greatly from another sonic shift. Moh Lhean could've been that album, considering much of its style and approach can be attributed to an unsuspecting illness that fell upon Wolf during the creation. However, rather than tread down darkened corridors, Wolf found solace in hope, light, and peace. There's instances of solemn reflection or dejected regret found sporadically in the lyrics, but Moh Lhean, for the most part, prides itself on the warmth and assuredness of life. I'm reminded of Deerhunter's Fading Frontier, an album that followed a near-fatal car accident with Bradford Cox in the vehicle. Rather than condemn the powers that be and invite the darkness that loomed over the crash, Cox welcomed in life's daily simplicities with open arms. Unfortunate for music listeners, cases like these doesn't really make for intriguing art. Moh Lhean can be added to that list. Cryptic topics on behalf of a nameless romantic and organic instrumentation that relies on the help of others, Why?'s latest effort may be their most personal yet. Nearly every instance here latches itself onto a specific memory of Wolf's, with details excluded. On Moh Lhean, there's not much an outsider can relate to.

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