After a spectacular debut at their first ever UK headline show last month at Monto Water Rats, we were expecting good things from Wye Oak on the eve of the album release, and boy weren’t we right. So right in fact, we’re completely smug. Civilian is a toe-tingling ride through ten weighty blues-tinged tracks of unadulterated listening pleasure…
We don’t want to spoil it by giving away too much, but if you haven’t heard Wye Oak before then we promise you’re in for a magical experience. Baltimore natives, the band comprises of duo Jenn Wasner- vocals, guitar- and Andy Stack-keyboards/drums/percussion- who between them make a cacophony of beautiful noise wrangling through blues, folk, Americana and rock-a-billy streaks.
Title track ‘Civilian’ is our favourite on the album, but ‘The Alter’, ‘Holy Holy’, ever-so-slightly-distorted track ‘Dog Eyes’ (which indulges Wasner’s love for heavy hooks and fingering) are all impressive tracks.
Contrasting nicely with the ‘noisier’ guitar-tracks is ‘Civilian’. With lyrics inspired by a slightly left-of-centre understanding of the world and a sensitive awareness of the nuances of everyday life, ‘Civilian’ is both delicate and polished, and stands heads above others on the album. And that’s not to their discredit; ‘Civilian’ is just that good. Wasner is more than just “another girl with a guitar”- she bears it like a weapon, shooting her way through the album with the stealth and delibration of a hunter. Her vocal and lyrical dexterity is likewise finely crafted- she sings from her gut, producing growling vocals that always threaten to explode into a Joplinified version of herself. Every line weighted with emotion, she’s mesmerising artist to watch. The hauntingly beautiful vocal arrangements on ‘Hot as Day’ makes this track come a second close to ‘Civilian’ as run-away-track and prove once again why Wasner is one of the hottest female musicians out there right now.
But it’s not all about Wasner; Stack is every bit her equal, producing haunting and atmospheric arrangements over which Wasner strings her lyrics. A formidable musician, during live performances Stack’s famed for his ability to play drums and keyboards simultaneously, and this favour of peddles drenches the album in a reflective mood that pools beneath keys and vocal harmonies.
Wasner sees Civilian as a collection of songs detailing the effects of “aloneness (the positive kind), loneliness (the horrible kind), moving on, and letting go (of people, places, and things)”. The result is a grown-up collection that has developed from previous release The Knot, and has announced Wye Oak’s arrival on the international stage with credibility and acclaim.
At times, emotions wear paper-thin on Civilian, with lyics asking “Would you like to know me?”-
Trust us, you’ll want to know this band. We’ll even get you started…
BEST TRACKs: Civilian, Hot like Day, Holy Holy Holy
LISTEN TO: if you haven’t heard them before…. and if you have. Amazing stuff. It’ll remind you why you like music in the first place.
Wye Oak release Civillian on City Slang Records from 7 March 2011.