On its earlier albums, Wye
Oak didn’t do anything all that remarkable. The Baltimore duo’s mix of folk-rock, dream-pop
and electronica may have varied the standard formula a bit, but all the band’s
ingredients were common enough in recent indie. That hasn’t really changed on Civilian, Wye Oak’s third full-length
album. The group has simply gotten a little subtler at what it does. And a lot
Wye Oak still seizes listeners’
attention with sudden leaps from soft to loud, or by lacing My Bloody Valentine
feedback into songs that otherwise resemble Fairport Convention. But the
transitions are less jarring, more organic. Sometimes, Jenn Wasner contends
largely with herself, contrasting her sweet (but never bland) vocals with
bruising guitar, while producer-drummer Andy Stack holds back. Elsewhere,
keyboards and electronics enlarge the sound, offering sweep (as in “Two
Small Deaths”) or drive (“The Alter”).
Wasner often plays circular
guitar figures, suggesting Renaissance madrigals (and every folk-rock jangler
who ever emulated Roger McGuinn). But the band’s songs rarely loop back on
themselves, preferring to drift, surge or change character altogether.
“Holy Holy” begins as a fairly conventional rocker, with Stack going a
little Afropop on the drums, but shifts into gently woozy asides. “We Were
Wealth” starts in loungey mode, pivots on an elementary keyboard vamp and
becomes a pretty chorale. Like much of Civilian,
this coda is unexpectedly lush, yet too delicate to be bombastic.
Small Deaths,” “We Were Wealth” MARK