Reviews

Why? Rediscover Their Earlier Form on 'Aokohio'

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Why? return from a hiatus with the new visual album, Aokohio, which recalls Yoni Wolf's earlier works.

Aokohio
Why?

Joyful Noise

8 August 2019

Sometime in the early oughts, I was doing what I often did back then: dig through bargain bins for music. I pulled Why?'s debut album, Oaklandazulasylum, out of a bin at a chain store. It was only 49 cents, and it looked weird, and I was weird, so I picked it up. The album art was pretty, but it had a dead person on it, maybe? No matter, It's an album that's followed me since. Its oddness was just for fun at first, then eventually it was revelatory. It's an outsider album no doubt, but those little images Yoni Wolf conjured on that album floated around my mind back then. To this day, the opening of "Early Whitney" evokes some sunken yet pleasant autumnal feelings. There was some depth in the deep then.

Why? has changed beyond recognition since, not to say that's necessarily bad. Yoni Wolf grabbed his brother and a rotating few and made it a real band. Mostly, they fashioned Why? into an odd little indie rock band with a bent towards weird rap verses. They still had good tunes, but they were more streamlined, more conventional. Why?'s new album, Aokohio, while not as all over the place as Oaklandazulasylum, cuts closer to that debut album than to any of their last five records. There are very few 'songs' present and even some of those end well before you're ready. Wolf has stopped making boxes and started playing with clay again.

There are two ways to experience Aokohio. First, listen as one usually would, either song by song or as an album, front to back. There is some pleasures in doing so. Opener "Apogee" pops up from the top with a blissful chorus. Later, songs like "Reason (Featuring Lala Lala)", "Stained Glass Slipper", and "Rock Candy" are standard Why? fare: Acidic lyrics backed by warped instrumentation. Otherwise, though, the audio-only experience is a little off-putting. Many of the songs here are in the ether, just being used as a connector between larger, more complex pieces. A song like "The Rash" is a song only because it's officially categorized as one. Basically, Aokohio, is not so powerful if you only listen.

Fortunately, the record can also be experienced as a 'visual album'. Here slighter songs like "The Rash", "The Launch", and "Narcissistic Lamentation" have a little more to offer, as the video reacts and enhances the songs, whether it be just a neat visual trick using computers, or else home videos showing the Wolf kids playing around the house. There are small pieces where the sampled voices line up with the people on screen. We discover that many of these 'short songs' are placed behind visuals to help set up the mood of the pieces, and it makes so much more sense now that we can see it.

The album's creation process has been described as coming from a need for something new. Yoni Wolf felt stuck, felt like a 'regular' album wasn't going to cut it this time. So, he took a different approach, tried something new. Wolf imposed some restrictions and added something new as well. Ironically though, it's reminiscent of where he came from as well, a little more shapeless and a lot more inspired.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.