Sensual whispers and twilight moans from the Baltimore duo.
Garry Mulholland 2011
Wye Oak are from Baltimore. This is worth mentioning upfront because the music of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack couldn’t be more different from the B-More image given to us by repeat viewings of The Wire and the booty-quaking beats of the club-rap scene if it wore lederhosen and was entirely played on tubas. Wye Oak are not black, urban nor dirty south; they are white, thoughtful, restrained and immaculately studenty. They have, after previous albums If Children and The Knot, been described as indie-folk, but probably won’t be after this leap forward into poised alt-pop.
Civilian fits perfectly within a music scene currently charmed by the futurist blue-eyed soul of The xx, Anna Calvi and James Blake, not because Wye Oak sound remotely like any of those three, but because they all share a certain mood. A perennially night-time mood of quiet storm intensity, of florid emotions repressed into sensual whispers and twilight moans.
Singer/guitarist Wasner and multi-instrumentalist Stack choose to design this mood with drums, piano, organ and guitars in love with both The Cure’s Faith album and post-My Bloody Valentine shoegaze. The gorgeous drift of their sad melodies is lent something extra-special by the voice of Wasner, which sometimes sounds like Christine McVie mumbling at a bus stop, or both sisters from School of Seven Bells, or – fair enough – a diffident, slightly distracted and possibly post-coital folk singer. The three songs that begin Civilian – Two Small Deaths, The Altar and the heart-stopping Holy Holy – carve out a space concerned with love, death and God, and are so good that one expects the rest of the record to disappoint. Instead, Civilian keeps on immersing you in its shimmering loveliness, creating and sustaining a soundscape that moves between calm and anxiety with a natural grace that borders on the sublime.
The shoegaze revival that permeates so much current indie-pop is fascinating. Because it’s the first time that a specific sound has been revived and – originators MBV and Cocteau Twins aside – vastly improved upon. Civilian pushes Wye Oak to the head of the nu-shoegaze pack with a record as blissed out as it is maudlin, as rootsy and tough as it is fey and introspective. It will soundtrack many lonely nights in many halls of residence… and is sexy enough to soundtrack a few less lonely ones, too.