Over the course of four LPs, each one better than its predecessor, and one well-rounded EP, Wye Oak have probably discovered their own music in a way that other bands find difficult. They are so self-aware and proud, that it makes their music sound as effortless and smooth as the sea. The fact that it is deep as well makes this a perfect metaphor. I do not like the idea of restricting a band with one genre label because I want to give them the ability to modify their sound as and when they like. Wye Oak have done exactly the same, not because a particular style was not working, but because one style worked so well that they had to create something more extraordinary to top that. More often than not, we have seen indie bands release massive masterpieces as debuts, however, what follows hardly ever manages to keep up with the quality. Sadly, this is a trend not exclusive to indie music but is also common among the more popular artists. But in the case of Wye Oak, each new album trumped the previous.
The band is a decade old, however, the members are so young that it makes their music all the more appreciable. Their debut album, If Children, does not sound like it is the creation of a couple of 19 year olds. The album was re-released by Merge in 2008, 10 years after it’s production. It seems like back then, it was ahead of its time when it was not trendy for indie bands to be so trendy. In 2008, the re-release gave them the appreciation they deserved, and they kept on making sincere music. The album begins strong, and finishes stronger. Please Concrete is a fabulous opening track and eases the listener into the beauty of the following tracks. A very well assembled LP, If Children has either good moments or great moments. There are instances of garage-rock as well which are not so common in their later LP’s. But
they are well done and nicely imbibed in an album that also features a harmonica and mellower melodies. A case in point is If I Were Young, which is equal parts sweet and equal parts harsh, in a very pleasant way.
In 2009, when the Baltimore duo came out with their new album The Knot, it was clear that they had matured. This is not to say that the previous album was not as intelligently made, just that they had more potential which they showed on their sophomore album. This one starts off with a banger, Milk and Honey. Throughout, they go from rough to soft and back to rough very agreeably. Take It In, another mentionable track sees a transition in not only the vocals going from sad and beaten to powerful and strong, but the instruments play along with her emotions. Such shifting emotions in their music are evident throughout their discography, and this is probably the only thing that has remained the same. On The Knot, we do see the momentum slacking at some instances, but Wasner’s voice and Andy Stack’s arrangements are commendable. Still a young band, even with some songs not as great, they managed to put out a collection of songs that people would love to listen to and cry to. It was an indication to the path that the band would be taking from there on, and they way went only upwards. They were now trying to look for a better, more personal sound. And, they did.
Personally, I am not a fan of their EP, My Neighbor/My Creator, for the sole reason that it does not match the standard set by their work. I believe this was a catalyst to the process of finding a new sound, which it did a very good job of. Sonically, it is different from all of their other songs; it is more powerful and forceful.
Coming to the next album, Civilian. Here, they maintain their characteristic mixture of soft and rough, but with different instruments and better writing. This is the album which begins with a great song which is only the worst one on the list. There is a hierarchy of sorts in the order of tracks, which should be enough to keep you hooked. It is as if they shed all their inhibitions here and just made the music they wanted, highlighted by a new dreamy element. So much so that you might not even pay attention to the lyrics since just the music has taken you elsewhere; but, when you do, you realize how beautiful they are. Holy, Holy is one of such tracks. Then we have the title track which is definitely the highlight and yet, not the end of it. Followed by tracks like We Were Wealth and Doubt that take their sweet time to get to their high points will keep the listener begging for more and not realizing that the album had ended.
In 2014 came Shriek to tell off those who thought that Civilian had been their zenith. It has been said at many places that after the excessive touring post-Civilian, the duo was simply tired of their own sound and wanted to reinvent themselves for the sake of the band. Gladly, they did so and came up with an entirely new sound. They replaced the guitars and drums with synths and funk bass and gave an album which is so delightfully consistent, that it hurts. Such a transition in a band’s style of music is not something new to the industry, however, the success in carrying this out is not that common. Shriek sounds very Wye Oak and completely different at the same time. Now, Wasner’s voice is more apparent. The lyrics are more emphasised. The arrangements are more RnB at some places and more electronic at others, in lieu of being dominantly rock. There is no track that can be mentioned specifically without being unjust to the others.
I would like to believe that Shriek was not the zenith of Wye Oak’s career, as many would suggest. I would like to believe that this is the beginning of a new path taken by the band, and it will be very exciting to see how they top this one. Considering their past record, I am sure they will. If you’re not very familiar with the music of the band, below is a list of their best songs to get you started.