Review Summary: Yoni Wolf’s whimsical and adventurous journey through reinvention
The near-five year hiatus between Yoni Wolf’s previous outing with indie rock darlings Why" and now is chalked up to a vaguely described “life-threatening illness” that was powerful enough to replace ‘self-deprecating swagger and cynical squint’ with a ‘sense of peace in the unknowing’ according to the record’s official press release. The nitty-gritty details regarding the illness that inflicted Yoni during the production of Moh Lhean
and how it affected him personally remains in the dark. As he has yet to spare the details of what exactly left him nearly out of commission from 2013 to 2016 (when he would pick up the mic for a collaboration with producer and instrumentalist Geti on Testarossa
). However, it only takes a quick glance at album introduction “This Ol’ King” to get a sense that this record is in many ways a new leaf for Yoni Wolf, and to a certain extent, for Why" itself.
Don’t be mistaken, though. Moh Lean is a far cry from a total reinvention in sound, or even a big shake up. In many ways the record strikes a familiar chord with their previous outings instrumentally. Why’s usual fare of warm toned, acoustic guitar leads sprinkled on top of a variety of expansive drum beats, bouncy basslines, and whatever other bells and whistles that Yoni could fish out of his box of ‘instruments no one else uses in THEIR music’ are all accounted for. Though in contrast between the two records, Moh Lhean
isn’t as indulgent with an extensive list of instruments nor with settling in cynicism and coldness. The production that backs Moh Lhean
is interesting, as it’s a first for the band to completely avoid doing business with a “hip hop” platform for Yoni to speak on. There aren’t many deft, “boom-bap” drum beats and overly complex and “out there” moments of songwriting to be amused by. And although Son Lux closes this gap by providing a hand in producing a unique, glassy electronic footprint for the hook of “One Mississippi” and other moments scattered in the lowkey haze of the record’s autumn atmosphere, it does leave some room to be desired in slower, arguably pointless moments such as the “The Longing Is All” and “January February March” interludes.
The best argument against Moh Lhean
as a whole is that it treads too dangerously close to Eskimo Snow
territory. Much like that record, this one scrubs clean many of the oddball traits of Yoni’s endearing personality that span the far reaches of every Why" project. From Why’s eclectic instrumental backing to Yoni’s deft drawl of a flow that has defined the greater half of their career, in a make or break case for many listeners, Moh Lhean
really is just a straightforward indie rock record with folksy tendencies. Yoni’s cryptic and abstract wordplay finds itself on the backburner with this record, seeing a favor for toned down offerings of vaguely-existential statements about life and death without ever getting too descriptively immersed inside their potential for world building. Though what differentiates these two albums from one another, and what makes Moh Lhean
ultimately stand out as a great offering in comparison is that the instrumental backing of this record is more convincing in relation to what Yoni is saying.
Yoni speaks highly of life and the concept of existence here, with a thinly-veiled sense of grounded skepticism, mind you. And in turn the rest of his band follows suit with melody filled with optimism and life. “This Ol’ King” begins with a lively hit of the guitar and a quickly paced, hollowed out drum kick as Yoni begins his fragile-sung journey through a whimsical, almost fantasy-like soundscape. “Easy”, while admittedly a weaker track, had a piano lead accompanied with a slowly moved violin and guitar that give it an emotionally provocative “sad movie” sound that works well for Yoni’s closest attempt at telling a story on the record. There is also “The Consequence of Nonaction”, which balances an attention grabbing sax-strewn kick beat that gives off a larger than life vibe of going on a grand adventure, with a delicately woven guitar/vocal performance from Yoni to contrast the grandiose movements. Moments like these are what make Moh Lhean
stand out as an excellent offering from the band. As they show a unique and well defined relationship between Yoni and the rest of the Why" collective working to make a more atmosphere heavy record against a downgrade of more familiar elements for the band.
Call it uninteresting or subduing the traits that made albums such as Elephant Eyelash
modern day classics, but the slight diversion in direction that Why" implement for Loh Mhean
has more than a fair share of qualities that sell Yoni’s unyielding optimism as a favorable outlet for the project. The record does more than enough to escape from suffering the same fate of Eskimo Snow
and simply put, offers a welcoming ray of optimism for Yoni Wolf and anyone else taking the time to listen to his curious tales of self-betterment.