Spotlight: Wye Oak, A Marvelous Band

Baltimore, Maryland duo has three albums out to catch up with

By , Columnist

Music is a vast ocean of songs these days. To listen to the most popular tunes, you need only to skim the surface. But to get to the awesome stuff, the music that explores more than a current beat, you have to be willing to go pretty deep into the waters.  If you do that, you can be rewarded with some fine music, some of which will remain with you until the end of your days.

One such band that I’ve recently come across in my deep diving is a duo from Baltimore known as Wye Oak. Wye Oak was formed in 2006 by singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner and drummer/keyboardist, Andy Stack, beginning their existence as Monarch. The duo released an independently produced album, If Children, shortly thereafter, and as many a good band who exhibit great promise do, Monarch signed with a notable independent label.

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Merge Records, started by two enterprising members of Superchunk as a means to release their own music (and others), discovered Monarch and re-released the band’s sole issue in 2008 with a name change to Wye Oak.  Given better distribution and visibility, If Children began to be noticed for what it is, an excellent debut album by a band who knew who they were and where they wanted to go musically.

Wye Oak widely bases their music in a folk/rock style, blending in a dream pop quality to form an increasingly popular style, dream folk/pop.  But Wye Oak doesn’t end there.  They are not afraid to augment songs with heavy guitar and a stream of electronic noise.

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If Children begins with a captivating song, “Please Concrete,” which is reminiscent of ’60s folk tunes of the Crosby, Stills & Nash ilk. “Regret,” “Family Glue,” and a few more follow this formula as well.  But a harder-edge rock can be found on the album with songs like “Warning,” and “Orchard Fair.”

“Keeping Company” brings a completely different feel to the collectionand the album ends with the superb “Obituary.”  

The album is a clean, wonderfully layered craftwork that should not be ignored.

Wye Oak’s next album, The Knot, followed in 2009, with ten great tracks that differ in many ways from their previous release.  The songs are more precise.  Wye Oak explores a pinch of country in some songs to round out the flavor.  With splendid songs like “Siamese,” the epic seven-minute “Mary Is Mary,” and “Sight, Flight,” Wye Oak had stepped into a different plane, producing music with a wider appeal.

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In March of 2011, Wye Oak put out their third album, Civilian.  Once again, they have crossed a new musical divide.  Retaining the heart of their sound, they have pushed the art of their music to even higher levels than before. Civilian doesn’t take long at all to slip into - beginning with the immediately catchy “Two Small Deaths,” with simple guitar to highlight a dream-pop track.

The CSN style, although rife throughout their works, is back with a stunning “The Alter,” a folk/rock song with a modern feel.  But the ‘60s’ musical familiarity filters through it like light though water.  When you get to “Holy Holy,” you begin to realize that you are in the thrall of something important.  That feeling becomes more intense as you continue through, listening to the country/folk of “Civilian,” the simplicity of “Plains,” and the pretty airiness of “We Were Wealth.”

Wye Oak is a talented band of two that is not to be denied.  They have three excellent “classics” in their grasp, and a growing audience, of which you should be a part.  Don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

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Matt Rowe began his life with an AM radio, listening to anything that was considered music. Since, he has labored intently to build a collection of music, paring it down, rebuilding, and refining as he sees fit. His decided goal is to keep up with new music by panning for the nuggets among literal mountains…

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