News Wye Oak - Civilian3-5 Stars
A deep and interesting affair.
There’s some kind of magic at work on Wye Oak’s third long player, ‘Civilian’. Not that you’d guess from their plaintive folk songs that sing of “baby teeth”. Within these hear the duo – consisting of Maryland’s Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner – lie curious reserves of garage rock, a shoegaze temperament and disquieting age, despite their years.
The title track sees the pair employing a more stealth country rock sound, howling organ faintly audible in the background as Wasner’s vocal sinks behind layers of galloping drum skins and steel strung guitars. It’s reminiscent of Land Of Talk, but sacrifices the seductive tones that so-an-so employs in favour of a more disaffected vocal.
‘Dogs Eyes’ feel almost as though the guitars are oscillating for the first 45 seconds, before a directional shift via heavy distorted guitar bleeds reverb onto the track, eventually dropping us back where it left off. Despite solid sounds and a kitsch homecoming moniker, Wye Oak aren’t shy of bringing the harsher elements of their sound into focus – as on the opener ‘Two Small Deaths’ demonstrates, the screech of strings.
The vocal quality on ‘We Were Wealth’ too, is really quite special, an exhausted hint of Annie Lennox at her most heart-pouring can be found in Wasner, who seemingly possesses a vintage soul. The change of pace once a freight of piano enters is also something else. Light, resonance building, empowering Wasner’s increasingly thin, choir layered vocals with a veneer of sonic echo and we get to have Andy Stack finally set free on his cymbals.
What is also amazing is the drive of the music: especially if you consider that Stack is at once steering the rhythmic drive with the left half of his body, while knotting an anchor of the bass with the remainder, certainly when it comes to live, anyway.
The spacey and altering tempo of ‘Doubt’ is exquisitely poised – fragile and blurry in her vocal, Wasner leans into the phrases and part-mumbles sentiments like “if you should doubt my heart, know that I would lie to you if I thought it was right to do”. It is bleak and pained, scratching at the speaker levels despite being a pretty much solo effort.
Plummeting aquatic depths with deep registers of piano and creating allusions to the surface through alternating melodies in guitar, with lilting vocals, is nothing new (it even predates the majestic waves created by Debussy) but does give ‘Fish’ something to break away from. The track really escalates and embraces that fulfilling swell in the middle, where otherwise the monotony begins to stall the enjoyment of Civilian. Similarly ‘Plains’ sees the pair choosing to rage in a shower of repeated unison chords, just as the tracks plodding 4/4 starts to grind, like a US band covering Snow Patrol.
But the balance of these disparate elements to their character is quite difficult to get to grips with. For every weathered vocal, there’s a tumultuous cacophony of noise to keep you holding on. A deep and interesting affair, ‘Civilian’ leaves the listener older and wiser, and definitely in a mind to discover what tricks Wye Oak still have up their sleeve.
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