After offering clips over the past few months, globally-acclaimed Cincinnati-based Art Pop faves WHY? today surprise-released their visual album, AOKOHIO. The audio version of the album is due this Friday from Joyful Noise Recordings, which is also releasing a cool triple-LP color-10-inch vinyl box set version.
The compelling half-hour short film — which is spliced together with old and new home movie clips, just as the album's songs are interwoven with shorter musical interludes — stars WHY? founder Yoni Wolf and his bandmates, as well as Emmy-winning actress Tatiana Maslany from the show Orphan Black; it was directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and James Siewert. The album itself ranks with WHY?'s best work, a captivatingly dynamic blend of catchy Indie Pop, artful quirks and experimental soundscapery. The album features musical contributions from Sylvan Esso and Lala Lala’s Lillie West.
Co-produced by Yoni and his brother and longtime bandmate Josiah, AOKOHIO sprouted out of a sense of creative and personal restlessness.
“When I started this project, I decided I needed to try a new approach in creating music and how I work,” Yoni says in a press release. “I wasn't feeling the idea of going back in and making another ten or twelve song album. It felt arduous. It felt like too much. So I wanted to pare the process down and make it manageable. I thought, 'Why don't I make small five or six minute movements and finish up each movement before I move on to the next.' That's how I started approaching it. The whole process took over five years, I'd start working on something and set it aside for a while. The earliest songs on this album started in 2013.“
The release pattern of gradually unveiling each "movement" to the public followed the serial nature of the creation process.
“It's like a television series, it's revealing itself slowly over time," Wolf says. "I think it's cool that the audience gets to hear it one piece at a time, and has to wait and digest each piece before they get the next one.”
Wolf says thematically the project centers around reflecting on his past and searching for a great sense of self. Wolf moved back to his Cincinnati hometown after forging his artistic career and making his name as a musician while living in Northern California. The album deals with the push and pull of wanting to feel OK being back where he grew up, but also feeling stifled by it and wanting to leave.
"The title is sarcastic I guess,” Wolf says. “But it's also wishful… You know, ‘A-OK Ohio, I'm here and it's fine.’ It's like a mantra, ‘A-OK Ohio, I'm here and it's OK.’ Even though in reality, every day I'm like, 'I've got to get the hell out of Ohio.' "
WHY? begins its world tour in support of the project on Aug. 14 in Indianapolis.
UPDATE: WHY? is hosting a special hometown screening of AOKOHIO this Friday (Aug. 9) at the Mini Microcinema in Over-the-Rhine. The 7 p.m. showing is free and open to all ages.