Friday, June 24, 2011

Wye Oak's Civilian More Than Wistful

Wye OakUnderrated indie folk rockers Andy Stack (drums, keyboards, backup vocals) and Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitars) from Baltimore, Maryland, have come a long way since their early beginnings as Monarch in 2006. With Civilian, the band takes advantage of their understated stylings to create melodies that grow as wiry as their namesake, Wye Oak.

Yet, their strongest tracks on Civilian aren't necessarily the mysterious atmospheric near-pop picks. It's when they add in more earnest indie rock that they sound their best and prove they are much more than a one trick pony.

There's a fire burning behind Wasner's vocals and we wish she would let it go more often. Some tracks on Civilian do.

Wye Oak's Civilian rocks when it's dirty and unrestrained.

Released by Merge Records, which sometimes seems neglectful of the last band on their list, Civilian highlights the duo's talent for blending multi-instrumental arrangements with Wasner's airy compositions. Except, as noted, on some of the best tracks like Holy Holy, Doubt, and the opening of Dog Eyes where Wye Oak plays with some piercing guitar work and pained vocals.

Civilian is also one of the strongest tracks on the album. It has an incredibly full sound on the album, but breaks up nicely as an acoustic anywhere the band decides to play it — even on a balcony in Amsterdam.

For a few months (before heading home to Baltimore and hitting select festivals), they took their loneliness-infused album across Europe. While in the States the band generally has to build their audience bit by bit, the tour abroad almost always provides a packed house. Where they win with their live performances is opening with their softer, folksy numbers before opening another level of rawness.

"I kinda holed myself up and came out with a lot of songs, way more than I’ve ever written in any small amount of time," Wasner told Venus earlier this year. "We had a lot of material to choose from, and we acted with a 'go with your gut' mentality on which songs would be on the record."

As an album, Civilian is set up to play the same way. Wye Oak is well known for its soft, loud, soft combinations within their albums and within some songs. It works, especially when Stack is driving things with his wickedly timed sense of layering keys and drums. Have another listen to the title track and you'll hear the layers pile on as the song builds to an epic finish. (Free download via Soundcloud.)

Watch for the band to get especially busy starting in August. Although they do have shows scheduled in Hartford and Northampton this July, the bulk of the tour carries them one month later and into October. Ironically, Civilian might touch on loneliness, but Wasner often finds herself craving isolation on the road.

Civilian By Wye Oak Isolates Some Greatness At 4.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As a third album, it's pretty clear Wye Oak knows what they are doing. Personally, I'm hoping they invest more time in developing their sense of angst like you find on Holy Holy and Doubt. There is a beautiful ugliness to them that you don't hear every day, especially Doubt.

Civilian by Wye Oak can be found on iTunes and the album is discounted on Amazon (if MP3s are good enough). You'll also find Civilian at Barnes & Noble.
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