The music from indie folk duo Wye Oak’s new album is best described as sound in layers. The album’s title, Civilian, comes from the band’s belief that everyone wants to be normal, but no one truly is. Singer-guitarist Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack are the masterminds behind this intimate exploration of clashing an eerie vocal production, pounding guitars, truthful lyrics, and new age psychedelic.
In a recent interview with thefrontloader.com, Wasner described the new songs as being “about aloneness (the positive kind), loneliness (the horrible kind), moving on, and letting go (of people, places, and things).” The first track begins with a light, airy feel. It’s very fluid with its rhythm, almost what an audio recording of a dream would sound like. The dreary shift from one resonance to the next is complimented by the peculiar undertone of vibration throughout the first few minutes. It’s a fusion between disjointed melodies and a smooth folk-like feel.
Wasner’s pained voice is effortless in expression, singing of odd encounters such as seeing dead birds upon returning home from work or keeping her baby teeth in a jar at her bedside table. The song is laced with subtleties of loneliness and desire. The perfect pitch of the voice exploits such tragic emotions in a way that seems more artistic than painful. The lyrics allow for a feel of realism and reflection, painting a landscape of absolute free interpretation. There is a wavering feeling between the edge of total emotional surrender and a raw rebellion of social normalities.
Wasner sounds playfully just out of reach some moments. The amorphous ambience that created the calming pools of self reflection are suddenly disrupted by the furious execution of a guitar solo that sounds like rage on strings. The album contains a certain bite that only comes from being completely unpredictable from one moment to the next. The chaotic intensity of the guitar is the only slight frustration as its sound momentarily gives the feeling of looking at the sun too long or biting ice cream too cold. You wait for the pain to subside because overall the beauty is worth the beat. The music fills up like warm bath water and can be soothing, encompassing, and relaxing. However, once you close your eyes and fully begin to feel the music, the tune drastically changes and every sound is suddenly overflowing.
With Wye Oak less is more, and their music is most enjoyable in moments that are sprinkled with absolute silence or an undertone of reverberation beneath Wasner’s raspy voice. The opening song is a standout favourite as it has a sleepy tone to it, as if Wasner is on the verge of a drunken revelation and can barely pronounce her words, all the while being levitated by the ticking of a guitar, the tinge of an organ, and the rhythm of a heavy drum. During the first few moments of the album the listener will become almost intoxicated by the entirety of the music.