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Local Artist Review: Wye Oak ‘Civilian’

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Cover art for Civilian by Wye Oak

Photo Credit: Merge Records

Now on their fourth release with the indie giant, Merge Records, Wye Oak are a young and budding duo from Baltimore, Md. Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner began several years ago under the moniker Monarch, but once they signed to Merge Records their name was changed to Wye Oak – Maryland’s state tree.

It’s fitting that they chose such a dominant and natural entity to embody their sound. The duo is full of rich and powerful noise, which is constructed organically and coupled with a gentle and calming sense. One might say their louder moments are represented by the trunk of this type of tree, while the more subtle moments can be found within the windblown leaves.

Listen to Civilian here http://www.last.fm/music/Wye+Oak

Civilian is the band’s third full length, and follows up the My Neighbor / My Creator EP that was released last year on Merge as well. While their last effort highlighted the band’s ability of use lo-fidelity studio work to create beautiful and lush folk-gaze soundscapes, Civilian finds Wye Oak using cleaner production that leaves nothing to the imagination.

While prior albums might have aimed to re-create the band’s live experience with quiet moments carefully divided by bursts of beautiful noise, Civilian finds the band exploring their own subtleties and honing in on their unforgettable sound. The songwriting is more sincere, as Jenn Wasner claims this record is about “aloneness (the positive kind) and loneliness (the horrible kind).” There are certainly a plethora of dark themes, but uplifting gems are interspersed throughout like “Hot As Day” and “Holy Holy.” The third track, “Holy Holy,” might be the band’s strongest to date, with a sound that lies somewhere in-between the velocity of Sonic Youth and the songwriting prowess of Yo La Tengo.

Wye Oak Live in Baltimore

Photo Credit: Valerie Paulsgrove

While Wasner’s infectious vocals and blistering guitar work are easy to applaud, it’s the work of Andy Stack that really makes Civilian the band’s most mature record to date. Stack’s ability to keep time creates some the band’s most interesting and cosmic rhythms, always keeping the listener on their toes. Stack also adds some incredibly lush synths, adding more depth to each melody than prior works. This doesn’t go to say that Wasner’s presence isn’t felt on Civilian, as her voice booms heavier than ever and her guitar chops certainly show much growth.

Civilian is Wye Oak’s most dynamic and mature album to date. While many might say that this record shows much promise for the future of this young duo, it’s worth arguing that Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have already arrived.

Baltimore’s next chance to see Wye Oak play is Sept. 6 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s one of the duo’s biggest local shows to date, as they will be opening for The National and the indie legends Yo La Tengo at the outdoor amphitheater. You can get tickets here.

Merriweather Post Pavilion
10475 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD
(410) 715-5550
Directions, Reviews & More Info

Brett Yale is a musically-obsessed Baltimore native. Brett founded Bmoremusic.net, and covers the Baltimore music scene for Impose Magazine.

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