Effortless, Profound and Confident
While it’s been about five years since Yoni Wolf released his last WHY? album, the frontman has had an eventful interim. In 2014, he paired with his ex, Anna Stewart, for a collaboration titled Divorcee. Two years later, he collaborated with Serengeti under the name Yoni & Geti to release Testarossa. He also went through a near-death health scare that he claims heavily influenced the tone of his latest effort, Moh Lhean. We see these moments in the album’s narrative arc, lyrical tone and production.
Moh Lhean is WHY?’s best album thanks in large part to the aforementioned occurrences. We’re listening to the same type of Yoni album, only this time there are four years of experience packed in. Wolf adopts a new approach to his songwriting, displaying a sometimes resigned acceptance of what is. “When it swells into me,” he states in “George Washington,” “I’ll pass into it and push a little closer.” These types of lyrics are weaved throughout Moh Lhean and bathed with simple piano lines, synths, hip-hop beats and glitchy melodies. Much like the band’s previous efforts, Moh Lhean defies categorization.
Time has changed Wolf, and he is trying to come to terms with it. We learn this right off the bat in opener “This Ole King,” which includes lyrics such as “always now / no before, after / only this / there is no other.” This outlook continues into the heart of the album, the adventurous “One Mississippi.” “I know I gotta submit to whatever it is in control,” Wolf concludes in the song’s catchy hook, trying in earnest to make peace with his being. The song’s beautiful melody, complemented by a lively beat, makes it a standout. Wolf’s adventurous disposition and vocal approach have led listeners to draw Thom Yorke comparisons, and rightly so. This meditation on Wolf’s well-being along with the rise-and-fall chorus renders the track one of the band’s most memorable.
While Wolf has grown in several facets of his craft, his approach to building arrangements, characterized by his assiduity, remains the same as always and is still his greatest strength. Yoni and his brother Josiah serve as album producers and completed Moh Lhean in the former’s home studio. The pair utilized a number of different instruments, contributing to the LP’s eclectic characterization. Songs begin with a simple piano line or guitar phrase and grow in a number of directions with all sorts of ornamentation: vocals, orchestra and other unidentifiable elements.
Given the lyrical content and Wolf’s health issues, one might conclude Moh Lhean to be a morose album. It’s far from it. Life’s problems have not caused Yoni to despair or channel his frustration into an angry collection of music. Instead, Moh Lhean is more resigned, yet accepting of forces much larger than itself. The arrangements paired with Wolf’s unique delivery turns gloomy themes into catchy, eccentric music.
Wolf’s exploration outside of WHY? shines through on Moh Lhean. The result is that the album sounds fresh and new — the songs are not as greatly influenced by hip-hop, nor are they driven by beats or traditional song structure. However, none of these changes fundamentally undercuts the essence of the WHY?; they simply sound more effortless, profound and confident.