Band of the Day

2011.12.14

Wye Oak

Earnest folk-tinged rock built on 90s indie and dream pop
All we cause our nature is at force so cut it at the source and go a light without a mind.
lyrics from The Alter

Formed in 2006, Wye Oak is an indie folk-rock duo from Baltimore, Maryland. The group consists of Jenn Wasner (lead vocals, guitar) and Andy Stack (drums, keyboards, backup vocals), and boasts a sound influenced by dream pop, indie and ambient noise. Despite being a two-piece group, Wye Oak develops their large sound by Stack playing drums and keyboards simultaneously with his hands and feet, while Wasner sings and plays guitar. Wye Oak self-released their debut LP If Children in 2007. Upon signing to indie giant Merge Records in 2008, the album was released to increased success. The Knot LP was released by Merge in 2009 along with 2011's The Civilian LP.

Maryland's honorary state tree, the Wye Oak was 460 years old when it met its demise in a thunderstorm in 2002. The band Wye Oak consists of drummer Andy Stack and guitarist/vocalist Jenn Wasner. Though Wasner's 1/18 the age of the Wye Oak (25), she sounds husky and world-weary beyond her years. Wye Oak channels Neil Young through the prism of indie greats like the Pixies and Modest Mouse, throwing in some dreamy beauty for good measure (it is 2011 after all). The Baltimore duo have released three albums since their 2008 debut If Children, though their 2011 release Civilian is their best yet. It's a serious record, very much at odds with the spastic synth rock that Baltimore's indie scene has come to be known for. The album has a calmly pretty beginning in “Two Small Deaths”, belying the intensity that comes later on. The track sounds like floating away on a quiet river as Wasner's voice echoes and fades into the steady pick of her guitar and metronome-like drums. “Holy Holy” picks up the pace, relying on the Pixies-patented quiet verse/loud chorus method that sounds great on record but begs to be played live. Wasner practically sighs her cryptic lyrics over hypnotically repetitive guitar chords and haunting backing vocals before exploding into the chorus. “Civilian,” is a goose-bump raising 3:40 of gorgeous rock and roll. It begins with a simple country-inspired electric guitar line and sheets of organ, then picks up volume, aggression and dramatic strength with the drums, finally ending in the twisted fireworks of a Neil Young-style feedback studded guitar solo. Wasner has ingested rock's great emotionally intense balladeers like Stevie Nicks, Kurt Cobain, Neil Young and made them her own. Much like the work of Mr. Young -whose name keeps popping up in this review- Civilian isn't a record you can throw on and let fade into the background, it's filled with dark and earnest songs that draw from a long line of rock, country, even punk traditions that are genuinely touching.