It seems like Merge Records can do no wrong as of recent, with stellar releases this year from names like Destroyer, Telekinesis and Apex Manor. So it is not a big surprise that this record is remarkable, well produced and enticing. Wye Oak has indubitably grown a great deal since their last release, and continue to amaze with how fulfilling their sound is for just a two member band.
Civilian is typical in that it has its immediate standouts, but unique in that after repeated listens, those that didn’t stand out before begin to emerge from the background, becoming new favorites. The opening track, “Two Small Deaths,” is one that grabs your attention upon the first listen. A bit of indiscernible chatter opens the song, giving that feeling of the moment before a show is about to start. It puts a bit of anxious-excitement about what is going to come after the chatter falls away, and Wye Oak certainly do not disappoint. Some simple feedback eases you in, and then the elegant and buttery vocals of Jenn Wasner hit you over the head, commanding your attention. The track ebbs and flows between the swell of folk sound from the beautiful vocals and the shoe gaze guitars.
While the start to this album is certainly calm in it’s nature, it is by no means a template for the rest of the songs. On numbers like “Plains,” there are drastic build-ups to the powerful, vocal and instrumental, crescendos. It is here, along with the rest of the album, where the rich and strong vocals of Wasner are comparable to that of Victoria Legrand from Beach House. It’s so easy to get lost in the delicate, yet hurricane force strength of the vocals, but it’s not a feeling of misdirection. Instead, it’s the wonderful feeling of having nowhere to be, and getting lost leads you to something that you never would have found otherwise.
On the title track, “Civilian,” the song builds upon itself, layering the crispness of folk and the grit of the guitar. It grows and grows, and then hell breaks loose; all tension that has been built is suddenly released in a cathartic swell of squalling feedback. Elements of brilliance such as this are found all over Civilian, both in the attention grabbers and the slow burners. The prevalence of control and detail that Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner bring to their sound allows for them to push their boundaries, all while staying calculated. Sound like this merits multiple listens, and careful listens at that, or else you might miss a savory indie rock treat in this album.
Download: Wye Oak – Civilian [MP3]