Though Yoni Wolf always employs as many instruments as he can get his crooked fingers on, few of the sounds are unnecessary. From the toy pianos on Oaklandazulasylum to the full strings on his latest opus as WHY?, Moh Lhean, there’s care and attention in his arrangements. You could blame this on his wonderful list of collaborators. But, only his brother Josiah joined him for production, and they are here proving that they’ve been the band’s backbone all along.
The one thing that tops Wolf’s proclivity toward ornamentation is his lack of a filter. We’ve heard rants about the type of soap he’s used to masturbate, oral sex in order to gain fans, and the plans to utilize retirement to the ends of listening to Garrison Keillor while stoned. Incidentally, Wolf lives a succinctly healthy lifestyle outside of his lyrics. There is a lot of documentation of him working out; an essential element to combating his Crohn’s disease. Furthermore, the man doesn’t even drink.
On Moh Lhean, we are hearing from a Wolf that has synchronized his art and his reality. It’s all wrapped up on opening track ‘This Ole King’; Yoni’s thoughts are preoccupied with death, but entertain “this one thing” that can be relied upon for peace of mind. Time has worn on the guy, and he is greeting it with esteem: “We know who we are/ from beyond to the veiled intentions between our cells.” He’s even saluting his body chemistry, which left him staring at his reflection in disapproval on 2009’s Eskimo Snow.
Playing into this theme is ‘One Mississippi’: “I know I gotta submit to whatever it is in control,” says Wolf. Where he once audaciously fought the bleakness that Midwestern life threw at him, he’s now adhering to major religious tenets. It’s well known that Wolf grew up in a Jewish household, but there’s never been any direct information suggesting he followed it. It’s livening to hear him be so accepting of the world. Where Bradford Cox and Deerhunter had their Fading Frontier, a celebration of life having turned out as it did, Wolf has ‘The Barely Blur’, where Son Lux joins him for a séance to man’s mysterious beginnings: “What mad stork brought us/ with no schematic and no map/ where every perfect nest disintegrates/ into the barely blur beyond.”
‘The Water’ is similarly submissive; a lurching bass reminiscent of Alopecia’s hip hop backdrops hovers over the song. Just when you think Wolf is ready to rap again, he sagaciously shrugs off the urge and tells a simple story: “out on the water/ me and my little brother/ we don’t say shit for hours/ maybe even longer.” The minutiae of this tale are akin to the hyper-specific set of details Wolf usually rolls out. The exception here is that there are far fewer words.
There’s a grace to the brothers Wolf having pared things down like this. You won’t find wordless tracks on previous WHY? records, but here there are two of them. So, even though we’re not hearing nearly as many sentiments, Moh Lhean sounds just as complete as any other WHY? record. This album is the mark of a man who knows where he is in life.