Racking Up Plays: “Civilian” by Wye Oak

These are the posts where I gush about some song that I’ve got a huge crush on at the moment, and you put up with it and listen because you’re a good friend.

Wye Oak
I don't want to startle Wye Oak, but it looks like somebody might have placed a dead animal head on them. (via www.wyeoakmusic.com)

“Civilian,” Wye Oak

I discovered this Baltimore duo based on the excellent reviews for their 2009 album, The Knot, which quickly became one of my favorite releases of that year. The title track to the follow-up, “Civilian” would be right at home on that searing, melancholy LP. So while Wye Oak isn’t forging any new ground or drastically reinventing itself, I’m probably going to love the new album once it’s released on March 8. (I’ve never been one to seek out full album leaks before their release date — just the occasional individual track.)

Wye Oak (named after the former state tree of Maryland, of course) consists of Jenn Wasner, whose bewitching voice contrasts with her often volatile electric guitar, and Andy Stack, who is somehow able to play both keyboard and drums simultaneously despite having only two hands. The group is often characterized as “indie folk rock,” and I can hear some of the folk influences in Wasner’s guitar playing — lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs, for example — but mostly they play brooding, plugged-in indie rock, complete with gloomy lyrics.

With “Civilian,” Wasner returns to the fertile gloom garden that is relationship drama, singing about a man that she clings to like her baby teeth and coming to terms with her need for intimacy: “Perfectly able to hold my own hand, but I still can’t kiss my own neck.” Then a surge of guitar noise breaches the song’s embankments and floods the last third of the track.

[free download]

Wye Oak is currently on the road supporting The Decemberists. Sadly (for me, anyway), Mountain Man will be replacing the duo as the tour’s opening act prior to the Valentine’s Day show in Oakland, but Wye Oak will be back in the Bay Area on March 25 for a show at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco.


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