WHY? have never been a conventional music outfit. Yoni Wolf, their founder, has never been one for tradition, either.
But when it comes to writing music, Wolf felt some constrictions that needed to be let go. And the alternative hip-hop group's newest full-length release, AOKOHIO, was the result. Exciting and unexpected, the 19-track album (which is also divided into several movements) is an exploration of intimacy and self-reflection.
“I decided to take the restraints off in terms of feeling that I had to write pop songs, you know?” Wolf tells Phoenix New Times. “I wanted a different format; I wanted a more open-ended artistic format and less of a cookie-cutter kind of thing.”
AOKOHIO isn’t the most pop-friendly WHY? release. Rather, in addition to an emotional exorcism, the newest installment from WHY? is an experiment in relinquishing control and moving past the restrictions of writing pop music.
“I sort of let it be what it wanted to be, as opposed to inserting my will too heavily based on preconceived notions of what a song should be.”
AOKOHIO reflects that quite clearly. The track times, which rarely breach the two-minute mark, are highly influenced by one another.
“Rather than it being one song, it’s sometimes three or four songs or whatever that fit together to create one theme. So, the artistry is in how the songs join together. And how, when juxtaposed, they create new meaning for each other. Sometimes they are reliant on each other. So, one 30-second song may not fit on its own that well, but in the context of where it's at, it alters the meaning for the song next to it and vice versa.”
In addition to the vulnerable subject matter, the visual album is complementary to the album. The visual aspect doesn’t “save” the album, which stands quite fine on its own. But the actual video aspect is a peek into the emotional state of a musician who has never been a stranger to intimacy in his music.
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“All the quick songs, the quick ins-and-outs, and the transitions felt kind of cinematic and like they could opt for visuals. I don’t know, it just made sense,” Wolf says.
AOKOHIO isn’t a complete departure from what fans of WHY? would expect. Those soft movements of the guitar and heavy piano, along with dance beats and angelic choirs, are very much part of the album. There’s just a change in the methodology of creating the music.
The future of WHY? is still unknown, and Wolf says that he is just focusing on the present tour and “working on a few things, but we’ll see what goes out into the world next.” In the meantime, AOKOHIO serves as a unique and gentle journey into Wolf’s mind, as well as the complex feelings we all share.
WHY? are scheduled to perform on Friday, September 6, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are $17 via Eventbrite.