Recording information: Beat Babies, Baltimore, MD; Poole St, Baltimore, MD.
Up until the release of 2011's album Civilian, the indie rock duo of Wye Oak released two albums and one EP of solid, well-crafted indie rock. Built around the husky vocals and biting guitars of Jenn Wasner and the steady backbeat of Andy Stack, they trod upon familiar ground; writing mysterious and autumnal songs with a melancholy and intimate feel that had loud/quiet dynamics and a homemade sound. Not exactly innovative but delivered with enough passion to make the records keepers. They probably could have kept along the same path and cranked out a few more albums before people got tired of them, and indeed, Civilian does hew closely to the template they've already created. This time, however, something seems different. The albums sounds brighter and better recorded, Wasner's songs are crisper and more memorable with an extra amount of sadness added, the performances invested with a level of intensity and fiery soul that had only been hinted at before. Listening to the incendiary guitar solo on the title track, the power of Wasner's vocals on "We Are Wealth" (and really throughout the album, as she has become one of the stronger indie rock vocalists around) or pounding drive of "Holy Holy," for example, it's clear that the band have fully invested themselves in the music this time. Not that they hadn't previously, it's just that this time out, they seem to want it more, and they're playing and singing like there's something important at stake. As before, the music is a rich blend of influences, though there may be a little more melancholy folk in the mix this time than there is shoegaze or dream pop. The duo stick mainly to guitars and drums with the occasional keyboards for texture; the electronic influences that came into play on the My Neighbor/My Creator EP being mostly forgotten. Overall, it's very similar to past records but different somehow. It's rare that a band gets better after releasing a few albums; usually their initial inspiration gets used up and they are left foundering. Wye Oak have done it, and on Civilian, they insert themselves into the upper echelon of indie rock bands. ~ Tim Sendra
Spin (p.85) - "The title track brings it all together -- a spooky, pretty lament that builds, improbably, to a shivering climax of Neil Young-ish guitar squall..."
Alternative Press (p.122) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[E]pic and assured....It's impressively well-wrought music..."
Magnet (p.42) - Ranked #8 in Magnet's '20 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "[T]he album conjures active and powerful emotions....CIVILIAN leaves a distinct sensation of melancholy reserved for those of us with an abiding sense of aloneness."
CMJ - "CIVILIAN's sound is round, with each component blending into the other rather than one dominating the rest....The music definitely gives a feeling of relaxation, but it also has a haunting quality that doesn't allow for complete comfort."
Uncut (magazine) (p.103) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[Wye Oak] have raised their game with this third LP, awash with beguiling harmonies and folk-shoegaze textures."