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WHY? provide glimmers of excellence on AOKOHIO, but no more


Release date: 09 August 2019
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12 August 2019, 13:12 Written by Jack Bray
AOKOHIO is the sixth studio album from the Yoni Wolf led indie rock/alternative hip-hop Cincinnati group, WHY

With their most recent effort, the group abandon their usual studies of a problematic present and future in flux and instead turn their gaze towards a collective past shrouded in melancholy and nostalgia.

It’s an interesting new angle for the group to explore and though the album is pulled forth by the typical introspective ruminations that singer Yoni Wolf has became famous for whilst leading WHY? & Hymie’s Basement, there is certainly an emotional angle in the past that has gone previously unexplored by the band.

Perhaps the most salient example of this can be found in Wolf’s declaration “I’ve been shaking off a shadow all my life,” a motif repetitiously established across the track, "Peel Free". It’s the call which best indicates Wolf’s direction on AOKOHIO, Wolf isn’t just concerned with the wide-eyed optimism of childhood but the aching inability to return there, that life doesn’t always allow you to deliver on the promise found there and the hope synonymous with memory. This emotional through-line is easily the greatest strength of AOKOHIO but uncharacteristically for the band, the instrumentation significantly lets the effort down.

In fact, no release from the group has ever felt so negatively affected by the creative pedigree that the band has established for itself over the years. AOKOHIO lacks the gut-punching meditative focus of 2008’s Alopecia or the relentless progression of 2017’s Moh Lhean. AOKOHIO often lacks the immediacy that has previously made any release from the bad so essential.

There are few significant standout moments on the album and there are even some that flirt dangerously close to the material of other bands. "High Dive" for example sounds eerily similar to a cut off of an Animal Collective album, replete with nebulous synthesisers and heavily edited vocal samples.

There are occasional flashes of excellence across the record, moments of bright, swirling instrumentation such as the aforementioned "Peel Free" which recall early WHY? However, it often feels like the well’s run dry, like Wolf and company are looking backwards into their shared past to deliver not only a nostalgic emotional core but also rekindle an artistry that they have perhaps become disconnected with or even lost with their new subject matter. This extends even to Wolf, with his typical serpent-tongued lyricism replaced with material that often sounds unsure and nebulous.

WHY? are a group at their best when railing against the complications of adulthood. With their latest album, the concerns of the group have reverted to childhood and though AOKOHIO benefits from a strong emotional core, the album’s lack of interesting composition and lyricism unfortunately weakens the end product.

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