Part nerdy underground hip-hop, part brightly melodic indie rock, and part synthy art rock, Why? have existed in a class of their own since transitioning from the solo project of rapper/bandleader Yoni Wolf into a full band in 2004. Sixth album Aokohio continues Wolf and company's genre-bucking stylization in the form of 19 short, splintered songs loosely arranged under six larger themes. Where death, family, and existential confusion have loomed on most Why? records, Aokohio takes on a particularly nostalgic perspective. The truncated songs can consist of anything from found-sound field recordings of a child's birthday party (the 45-second "The Rash"), bursts of horns and sharp rhymes ("High Dive"), or something more in line with the complex arrangements of earlier Why? albums (the buoyant and reaching "Peel Free"). The brevity of most of the songs gives the album an unfinished, hanging feeling, with some songs finishing before they really get off the ground. Contributions from Chicago songwriters/vocalists LaLa LaLa and Gia Margaret fit this fragmented approach as well, as they drop in as a ghostly choir for a few bars of "The Crippled Physician," adding texture but not occupying the usual space of a featured guest. This type of experimenting is nothing new from Wolf, who as recently as 2013 recorded a concept EP of songs about seven Why? super fans. The quick changes can be jarring, but by the middle of Aokohio, the staggered flow begins to normalize and the album becomes an environment of short attention spans and choppy reflections. Rather than the sometimes-crushing statements of earlier albums, the weight of Wolf's heavy lyrics is softened by how quickly one idea blurs into the next.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas