event

WHY?
NNAMDÏ
Sun, Sep 15
Doors: 7:30 pm | Show: 8:00 pm
Tickets: $25.00
Ages 21 and Up
WHY?
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Artists
WHY?

For nearly three decades, WHY? have thrived in subverting expectations. Across seven unpredictable and adventurous studio albums, the band led by Cincinnati songwriter Yoni Wolf has stretched the fringes of psychedelic pop, hip-hop, and electronic music. No matter the genre experiments and thematic departures, their discography is remarkably consistent, anchored by Wolf’s disarming lyrical transparency. His writing is provocative, self-lacerating, and always considered, coming from a place of blunt emotional openness. The Well I Fell Into, the eighth full-length from WHY?, is Wolf at his most cohesive and poignant. An autopsy of heartbreak, the album charts the ups and downs of a devastating breakup while trading bitterness for healing. Self-released on Waterlines, Wolf's new label that follows in the footsteps of Anticon, the trailblazing artist-run collective he co-founded, its 14 tracks stand as the band’s prettiest and most immediate work yet.

 

“Making a WHY? album is an opportunity for me to button up a period of my life,” Wolf explains. “I’m bad at realizing how I feel or how something is affecting me in the moment. Things just sit inside me, but writing is a way to really take stock.” Though the dissolution of a years-long relationship inspired Wolf to start writing, he considers The Well I Fell Into autofiction, a chance to interrogate his grief and his journey to acceptance rather than to air out the real-life details of a painful loss or pick at emotional scabs. “This is not a bitter kiss off,” he says. “While the songwriting was cathartic, I can see my life beyond some story or mythology I’ve cornered myself into artistically. I’m not getting stuck in sentiment like I might have in my 20s.”

 

The songs on The Well I Fell Into often feel like vignettes, jumping around time and offering glimpses into the turbulent emotions that come from personal upheaval. Songs like “Brand New” find Wolf navigating indecision over delicately plucked acoustic guitars as he sings, “Is it me / do I fight or flee? I do /  But I need to be brand new.” Elsewhere, tracks like “When We Do The Dance” capture the bittersweet nostalgia of remembering better times, while the ruminating “Marigold”—which kicks off the record after the intro—ruefully embraces finality. Though most of the material was written between late 2021 and early 2023, the musical origins of grimly loping “Jump” date back at least seven years. Buoyed by a mournful piano arrangement, Wolf sings, “My nowness has waned / It takes valor to change / out of a pattern of shame / extract the air from the flame.” This is an album concerned with losing your sense of self and your attempts to recapture it. 

 

Though every WHY? album since 2012’s Mumps, Etc. was recorded at various home studios, Wolf and his bandmates Josiah Wolf, Doug McDiarmid, and Andrew Broder tracked The Well I Fell Into with Brian Joseph (Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver) at Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Hive Studio. The move resulted in compelling and accessible arrangements that enhance the strong hooks grounding the songs. “On this one, I'm very interested in classic songwriting,” explains Wolf, who also enlisted a cast of collaborators to flesh out these recordings, including Gia Margaret, Finom’s Macie Stewart, Lala Lala’s Lillie West, Serengeti, and Ada Lea. “I want my songs to be able to be played unadorned by just one person and still hold up. Any production frills should only serve to elevate the song further without being relied upon to tell the story.” 

 

Compared to the short, collage-like songs on 2019’s AOKOHIO, these songs breathe with lush, curated textures that feel patient and intentional. The palette is inviting, yet still unconventional—as on “G-dzillah G’dolah,” an at once minimalist yet lush ballad featuring strings, set into motion by a twinkling prepared piano. Harmonies also soar throughout The Well I Fell Into; the exemplary, diaristic “The Letters, Etc.” features a cathartic chorus as Wolf, in an array of choral voices sings, “Maria / The letters were a last-ditch effort, rattle of death.” “Nis(s)an Dreams, Pt. 1” slowly evolves with clanging guitars and a Beatles-esque outro complete with grand piano, strings, and a Greek chorus singing, “Keep buffing me off for a brighter day.” 

 

The Well I Fell Into is an ultimately hopeful record. While it deals with messy emotions, it tackles them with a disarmingly lucid candor and a profound grace. There are no external villains and no wallowing, just a frank dissection of the past and a diligence to move forward. For that, the album stands near the top of the WHY? catalog as a document of an artist pushing through and finding some sense of peace. “I don't know if it's the ketamine therapy or meditation or what, but I feel I'm in a little bit of a second wind with my songwriting,” says Wolf. “I was in some kind of pit but I'm not really there anymore. I'm flowing now more than I have in many years.” 

NNAMDÏ