Review Summary: Branching out.
I met Wye Oak for the first time in a balcony. It was not in person, mind you. The video belonged to a live performance out in the open in some building in Amsterdam. It was in back in 2011, I believe. Jenn Wasner had an acoustic guitar with her and Andy Stack just sort of stood next to her, nervously shaking a tambourine and religiously stomping on the kick drum. They played a song called “Civilian”.
I fell in love with Wasner’s voice instantly, her warm tone and her raptured way of singing are features that soon stand out when listening to Wye Oak for the first time, not to mention the fact that “Civilian” is one hell of a song. I found myself digging further into their live catalog that afternoon. To my surprise, that was also the first time I saw Andy Stack playing drums with his right hand while hammering a totally different phrase on a keyboard with his left hand. It broke my mind. The two of them sounded better than many bands with twice the people. I soon understood that Wye Oak was no joke.
was a song (and the album) that brought them overwhelming success, unfortunately to the point of total exhaustion. It took its toll specially on Wasner, who grew to despise her guitar. It forced her to turn her attention to other forms of expressing herself: keyboards and electronics were the choice. It was then that a new and electric chapter for the duo was written under the name Shriek
, an album equally loved and hated by their ever-growing fanbase, but that accidentally prompted an irrefutable truth: Wye Oak were much more than another simple indie rock outfit.
Before the astonishing return for the duo that is this The Louder I Call, the Faster They Run
, there was a small attempt, an album labeled by them as “an EP” or just “b-sides”, but that ironically had some of the best material that the band had ever written. The not-very-important recording was called Tween
, and it featured tracks like “If you should see” or “No dreaming” which, interestingly enough, became the sign of a promising future for the band. Fast forward two years and Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack live on different cities, although no matter how much physical distance is between them, they have never been so artistically close. With distance not being a problem anymore, not even an excuse, the duo was boiling with ideas so it didn’t take long for the Oak to branch out, secure its roots and deliver one of the best albums they have ever written.
The tree has grown, vastly. Jenn Wasner sounds fantastic in songs like “You Of All People”, “The Instrument” or “Lifer”. There is some sort of positivism emanating from her singing, like a deliciously aged red wine that relies on not only its body, but also in the aftertaste. Behind this thin optimism though lies a crescent anxiety; towards life, towards the pass of time and the inexorable fears that come with something as simple and unnerving as growing old. Wasner dances with these thoughts, cuts through this iceberg of doubts and terrors with enviable maturity, this time not only speaking through her guitar, but also through a bass, a keyboard, a piano, and the sincere emotion of her voice. The non-conformist drumming of Andy Stack, always defying the rest of the instrumentation with superb technique in songs like aforementioned “The Instrument” or “Symmetry”, takes a supportive role in songs like “It Was Not Natural”, letting Wasner to ruminate about these existential doubts and how to crush them.
The A side will bring you the Wye Oak you know. The one that knows what it wants while remaining welcoming, familiar. But as the album plays, the tree will grow, and the fruit that once was at everyone’s reach now it only belongs to those with the will and faith to climb to higher heights with them. Mid-album, Wasner deviates from the path and recalls Debut-era Bjork in “My Signal”, her voice shrouded in a obscuring effect while violin and cello play hide and seek. “Over and Over” entangles itself in melodies that don’t feel that welcoming anymore, while the drums breath heavier, almost choking to the strange tempo. “You Of All People” carries a wonderful vocal line, soaring gently over the calming rhythm until reaching the quasi-country, dreamy vibe of “Join”. The album closes with “I Know It’s Real”, starting off with boniverian
keys and finishing on a delaying beat, almost like treading over the cracking tip of the highest branches.
With The Louder I Call, the Faster They Run
, Wye Oak stands on newfound altitude. And looking down from the top will always be vertigo-inducing for many, because the old days of “Civilian” are long gone. Staring from down below, the memory of that balcony is only fallen leaves, so it’s natural to look up and wait for the new fruit to pop. Well, wait no more, cause it’s already here for the taking.