Wye Oak – Civilian

There is a revolution coming. Expressed in everything other than the mainstream forms of advertising and journalism. BBC Radio 6 is becoming imminently more popular and prominent over Radio One. Myspace, Soundcloud and Bandcamp allow individuals to unearth golden nuggets that sit close to their heart not only because they exist as new, exciting and provoking tracks, but because they have been scouted by the fans themselves.  As a result, these new discoveries become personal and felt to be rightfully theirs. Independent gig venues such as the Jericho Tavern and the Bullingdon Arms are steadily evolving to rival the popular, safe venues such as the O2 Academy.

It has given rise to an ever-progressing music that encompasses a multitude of genres as opposed to a bizarre concoction of RnB and House music regurgitating the same vocals and dodgy synths.

Wye Oak embraces this new movement in their entirety. The juxtaposition of Rock and Folk drives forward this genre which encompasses the amalgamation of old and ever-developing music scenes. It combines epic, indulgent guitar riffs with harmonium, cello, tambourine, cymbal spattered drums and beautiful vocals.

Wye Oak comprises of two musicians from Maryland, USA, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner. The duo are a hive of musical activity, dipping a multitude of fingers into the musical instrument pie, “Wasner sings lead vocals and plays electric or acoustic 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.” Civilian is their fourth album to date having released their first album in 2006 prior to being signed to Merge Records.

Civilian leads the listener on a journey that begins with a tentative, contemplative gesture, through dark, stormy mood swings which break out into revelatory songs that express a sense of accomplishment and relief. According to the LA Times blog, the album is a portrayal of “aloneness and loneliness”.  Aloneness meaning relishing in time spent on your own – time that you create for yourself and are content in your solitude; loneliness simply implying to feel lonely.

The album opens with ‘Two Small Deaths’. It initially jests the listeners with a possibilty of it being a live recording. It in fact progresses from a recording of a bubbling chatty crowd, through rewound samples, to a perfectly executed driving force of close vocal harmonies, distorted synths and a strict waltzing rhythm.

Contrastingly, ‘The Alter’ begins with stripped down arpeggiaic guitar chords and echoing, overlapping melodies which provokes imagery of hot dusty afternoons gazing from a dry wooden porch overlooking tumbleweed and a parched savanna. It later becomes laced with electronic repetitive, lingering synths and refreshing bursts of piano.

Modal harmonies in the title track, ‘Civilian’ drags you into a Pagan abyss full of heavy, tribal floor tom combined with knees-up, toe-tapping country style guitar, harmonium and delicate lyrics. Is there a sneaky slide in there? Either way a dramatic and emotionally provoking song has emerged boasting over 70,000 hits on Youtube already.

‘Dogs Eyes’ is dominated by honky-tonk, out of tune guitar and the xx harmonies, but is predominantly driven by faster-paced crashy drums and tempts the listener by sudden time changes, an occasional slowing of speed combined with an overwhelming ubiquitous sound.

The rest of the album continues in much the same fashion; infinitely diverse and unexpected turns aplenty. There is no doubt that this album simply oozes cool. Subtle changes of intonation, use of instrument, nuances in time and vocal technique display a conscientious yet confident advancement. Their sound is dramatic, emphatic and sustaining. It is nourishment enough in a time where advertising and marketing quashes everyone’s free mindedness.

Bring on the revolution…



Released on 7th March 2011 courtesy of City Slang.