Wye Oak's 'Civilian' delivers emotional honesty: Noteworthy Releases

Posted by Kara Clark

After their blowout performance at Fallstaffs, checking out Wye Oak's latest album seems to be a logical next step.

Released on March 8, Wye Oak's album "Civilian" is an earnest attempt at a record with dispersed moments of absolute clarity.

The Baltimore duo's fourth release brings them closer to a sharper band focus, a point of view that will undoubtedly garner respect from the musical community.

Each track on the album has the capability to stand on its own. However, a disparity halves the album into two different types of song, and this contrast detracts from the cohesiveness a great album should possess.

One half of "Civilian" is rooted in complexity, while the other half takes on a more simple approach. Overall, coherence is also made difficult by the odd track order; momentum rises and falls so extremely with each transition, making it hard to recover from one song before another begins.

With its best songs, "Civilian" boasts detailed construction, creative concepts and skilled musicianship.

Few female artists today can claim the intricate understanding Jenn Wasner has of the electric guitar.

Her detailed strumming, paired with keyboardist Andy Stack's simple rhythms and chords, make songs like "Two Small Deaths," "Hot as Day," and "Holy Holy" compelling to the ear.

"Civilian's" greatest asset, however, is its title track. Organ, tambourine and the lament of Wasner's guitar give the song an eerie poignancy unique in nature.

The song exudes a nostalgic hypnotism and cements its presence as if it were a memory one had owned all along.

At its end, "Civilian" rises to an emotional height that easily makes it the album's tour de force track.

"I wanted to give you everything," Wasner drawls, "but I still stand in awe of superficial things." Her guitar reverberates with a menacing regret in a concluding guitar solo, an erratic string of notes, with Stack's kick drum and tambourine anchoring it in the background.

The song also highlights an exclusive strength of Wye Oak's – the total symmetry of their vocal and instrumental elements.

It's easy to approach a song from either a vocal or instrumental standpoint, but with Wye Oak the two become one.

Wasner's somnolent vocals compliment the dreamlike quality of her guitar, and even at the album's most exhilarating moments, both the instruments and vocals equally rise to a subtle menace.

The weaker half of "Civilian" sticks out due to its minimalistic tendencies. Since a good portion of the album flaunts layered and detailed tracks, songs like "Plains," "We Were Wealth" and "Doubt" seem rough around the edges.

These songs are in want of an additional once over, and lack the finesse of Wye Oak's other songs. If all of "Civilian" were presented in a minimalistic manner, these tracks would seem stylistically bare instead of obtrusive.

That said, I would not call "Civilian" a failure. The highpoints of the album tower above the low, but the low points are not wanting in skill.

In the end, "Civilian's" success lies in its emotional honesty, a quality that can only be respected and admired.

Kara Clark is a sophomore English major who hopes to find a job after college.

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