A horrible hack

Wye Oak

Civilian

Year Released: 2011
Format: CD
Label: City Slang
 
Reviewed by Jamie Otsa on Apr 2, 2011
Over the past few years Baltimore (Maryland, USA) has become synonymous with HBO drama The Wire, a scathing indictment on corrupt politics and a descent into poverty sound tracked by a gritty hip hop soundtrack.

Refreshingly, Wye Oak are presenting a much more pleasing angle on the cities culture, resurrecting old school Americana Folk and blending it with a dreamy, ethereal garage rock full of background noise and bleeps that Eels fans should be salivating over. The two piece (Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner) have created an immensely listenable and vital soundscape of an album, positively brimming with hooks, tricks and noise that a 6 person outfit would have been proud of. Wasner sings lead vocals and plays guitar, while Stack plays both drums and keyboards, playing the drums with his feet and right hand, and the bass line with his left hand. Talented little tykes.

Opening track ‘Two Small Deaths’ whirrs into life like a wind-up toy over a sample of ambient bar chatter, driven by a beautifully simple drum beat and reverb heavy vocals, with a heady, swimming crescendo.

Comparatively speaking, ‘Holy Holy’ buzzes with energy, showcasing a riff that sounds like Dinosaur Jr. after one too many late nights playing through a broken amp. One of the things that really grabs you about this album is the attention to detail in the production – the guitar tones are warm and exciting, with a signature sound.

Whilst Wye Oak have a clearly defined core sound, they toy with all sorts of musical genres across the 10 songs, with Wasner’s ghostly vocals and wistful lyrics the thread that ties it all together. Mid way through the album, ‘Civilian’ returns to a finger picking, stomping Americana format with a subtle infusion of church organ and a chorus that Tarantino could have put in Pulp Fiction, whilst stunning closing track ‘Doubt’ brings to mind a delicate mix of Jeff Buckley and Joan Baez.

I could ramble on for hours about every track on this wonderfully tiny sounding slice of excellent music, but you need to hear this band for yourself. This will quickly become a wee small hours firm favourite.


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