More poet-singer than frontman-MC, Jonathan "Yoni" Wolf holds a unique place in the intersection of hip-hop and indie rock. Originally the alias for his left-field alt-hop solo act, WHY? has bridged the stylistic divide since 2005, when he rebuilt it as an indie band that includes his brother Josiah.
Compared to Wolf's early one-man project, the modern-day WHY? is nearly unrecognizable. Early on, his peculiar, avant-garde raps were a staple of the DIY hip-hop label Anticon. They appeared on collaborative albums alongside contributions from fellow Anticon cofounders Doseone, Odd Nosdam and Pedestrian. But lately, the band's few consistent characteristics have been Wolf's somewhat nasal delivery, introspective subject matter and tangled wordplay.
Though the verbal gymnastics have always been the main draw, listening to Wolf's lyrics can feel like peeping into someone's diary, reading all of the dark secrets and sexual deviancies you shouldn't know about. Even when the songs aren't autobiographical, they're curious, quirky stories that reflect Wolf's talents as a storyteller, a skill set that continues to strengthen with age. His vocal range has evolved over time as well, and though his vocals with WHY? tend to be alternately sung and rapped, the emphasis on the former continues to grow.
The composition of the band has also evolved. Their melodic, dynamic arrangements took another step forward with a new full-length album, the orchestrated Mumps, Etc. Not only did WHY? expand their musical arsenal with piano, strings, woodwinds, harp, marimba and whistling, but they debuted Josiah's wife, Liz Hodson, as a harmonizing force and additional instrumentalist.
Their latest EP, Golden Tickets, presents a new kind of voyeurism. Its seven tracks are personalized theme songs for fans, lyrically compiled by "Internet stalking" random customers of the band's web store. Take "Banana Mae," in which Wolf sings, "I think the reason I don't have any friends/Is because the people that I click with the best/Also hate to leave their beds."
The band's Oct. 5 show at the Majestic will center on such recent material, including a song that was reverse-engineered to a soundless, shirtless video monologue submitted by a dreadlocked fan.