This is a review I wrote for The 405.
“This collection of songs is called Civilian because I believe everyone wants to be normal, but no one truly is.” Those are the words of Wye Oak’s lyricist, singer and guitarist Jenn Wasner. The Balitmore duo, completed by Andy Stack, are releasing there third record on City Slang on March 8th. Beginning with the sounds of a crowded and chattering room, the album develops into a atmospheric and mature work about loneliness, both the good and bad kinds, moving on and letting go. It’s a compelling album, mixing folk and shoegaze, ringing echoes of Beach House, another Baltimore duo, but manages very well to stand on its own two feet. Wasner’s voice has a relaxed subtle tone and the simple instrumentation triumphs in places, and in others shows how much a synth can bring to a simple song.
The first track ‘Two Small Deaths’ doesn’t sound like the cheeriest of openers and no its not, but it sets the theme of the album perfectly. Quite reserved and repetitive in its instrumentation, the track has a very dreamy, woozy quality. It is followed wonderfully by ‘The Alter’ begins much more stripped down with Wasner’s voice layered to create some wonderful harmonies. ‘Holy Holy’ is heavy on its guitars, loosing some of the Beach House comparisons while ‘Dogs Eyes’ is again a step away from the dreamy synths into some complex guitar rhythms.
‘Civilian’ was all over blogs at the end of last year and still stands as perhaps the highlight of the whole album. The vocal against the solo guitar line is wonderful and something which is copied at different points throughout this album but triumphs during this song. ‘Fish’ has a wonderful chorus but the rest is a little simple and repetitive. ‘Plains’, another woozy number has a great riff which is repeated throughout the song right up until the last line which creates a very nice ending to the song. ‘Hot As Day’ is very shoegazey and ‘We are Weath’ has a great build-up but its the last track ‘Doubt’ which creates the highlight of the second half of this album. Featuring only vocals and electric guitar, the vocal melody is stunning and creates a wonderful and quite different end to the album. Whereas the majority of the songs are dreamy, full of instrumentation and a little dreary in places, this last song is light and simple and shows off some wonderful songwriting skills.
Although this is not the most ground-breaking of records, there is still something wonderful about listening to this album. Her voice mixed with the dreamy guitar sounds mix so well, and the songwriting so compelling in places, this album is a stunning listen. With tours planned for the rest of the year and a slot at SXSW, Wye Oak are certainly ones to watch for 2011.
Best Tracks: Doubt, Civilian, Two Small Deaths