Baltimore duo Wye Oak came together in 2006, when two friends from Baltimore, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, started recording demos together in a basement. It didn't stay in the basement for very long: after self-releasing their first lp, If Children, in 2007, the band was signed to legendary indie Merge records, who, like the rest of us, were totally taken with the duo's noisy, deeply melodic sound.
Then, as now, said sound coheres around the incredible interplay between Wasner and Stack: Wasner's strikingly unconventional songs and effortlessly evocative voice backed by Stack's heady, elegantly layered instrumentation. Wye Oak's wonderfully idiosyncratic songs often make exquisite use of loud, distorted textures, beneath which lie a wealth of sonic detail.
Wye Oak's music combines the of earthiness of folk, the textures of shoegaze and the dynamics of classic indie rock, while subverting the norms of each. A careful listen to Wye Oak's 2011 lp, Civilian, reveals that only one of the songs has a chorus, the album's inimitable ebb and flow recalling something Mike Watt once said about the Minutemen’s music: 'We don’t write songs, we write rivers.'
It's a landscape few other bands have mapped, and one remarkable for the fact that only two people created it.
Wye Oak released their second lp, The Knot, in 2009. Like the records before and after it, The Knot hinted at the band's many inspirations –– the Cocteau Twins here, Sonic Youth there, moments of Crazy Horse and Fleetwood Mac –– managing, all the while, to sound close and familiar, while remaining impossible to pin down.
Civilian is perhaps the band's most accomplished album yet. Which isn't to say it was easy to make. 'This album was completely a lifeline for me,' Wasner said of writing and recording the duo's third lp. 'I don’t know how I would have made it through without it. It’s pretty much all I did that summer [of 2010] –– sit in my little room and write songs.'
The result is a thoroughly cathartic, confessional collection of songs about the uncertainty and freedom that comes with change. 'This is the most emotionally direct set of songs that I’ve heard Jenn write,' Stack says. 'I think she’s a little uncomfortable with that, but it sure is nice for anyone who listens to them.'
Wye Oak are on Gaga Pub via our good friends at Spunk.