It’s ironic how the most devastating times in life can inspire the most beautiful art. In the case of Wye Oak comprised of Andy Stack (Drums and guitar) and Jen Wasner (singer and guitars), Civilian is their beautiful tragedy, or really Jen’s. Writing the songs during the summer of 2010 during a difficult time in the songwriter’s life resulted in compelling songs about loneliness, uncertainty and change—things everybody faces, making Civilian a very relatable album.
Considered a “ kind of 21st century folk music,” I thought Wye Oak was straight indie rock. Songs were coated with some heavy guitar chords (which both Jenn and Andy split duties on) and keyboard with splashes of electronic nuisances here and there made for a very powerful album. Not to mention Jenn’s powerful, yet humble, vocals really set the mood for the group’s third release.
Their debut album, If Children, revolved around the bonds of family, while their sophomore effort, The Knot, captured bonds with everyone else, Civilian is more about breaking those bonds. This gives you a better idea of what the songs on this album dive into lyrically, as well as the energy of the melodies, chords, beats and rhythms that provide the backdrop to such powerful messages and emotions. According to Jenn, these songs “contain fragile information,” which comes across with each and every listen.
I must admit, at first listen I wasn’t too impressed, but then again, it was one of those quick run-throughs you do just to feel out the album. But after my second, more in-depth listen, I realized the magic each song possessed.
The pain and agony she was feeling is felt throughout the album, especially with its opening track, “Two Small Deaths.” At first listen it seems like it’s going to be one of those purely instrumental interludes with a mesmerizing guitar riff and drum beat that’s held constant for quite a bit before Jenn’s voice comes in strong. I don’t think a song has captured mortality and its awareness quite like this before ( in my opinion at least).
“Alter” is another notable track that contains a more upbeat background with its synths and keyboards and twinkling guitar chords in the middle fused around Jenn’s riveting sweet voice. “Holy Holy” is just an epic song laced with tambourines and some serious rock riffs that are pretty forceful.
After Jenn wrote the last song on the album, “Doubt” (a beautiful ballad with some awe-inspiring lyrics), she confessed her depression was gone and depicted her songs as “magic” or some sort of “sorcery” for having the power to uplift her spirits again, which is what sort of happens when you finish the 10-track album. After following her troubles, as “Doubt” finishes, you feel a sense of relief and know that even though life may throw you a couple of curveballs, everything is better in the end…you just have to believe. In retrospect, what may sound like a very melancholy album is really great music for when you’re trying to find a sense of meaning in life or trying to figure out some weird shit that’s happening. Deep stuff…definitely, but sometimes you need to swim in the deep end every once in a while and Civilian will help you do that.
Wye Oak is coming to Los Angeles with a show at the Echo on Thursday, March 23, 2011. Want to win a FREE pair of tickets? Grimy Goods is giving some away. Leave a comment below to enter the contest. Click here for contest details.
Words: Kristie Bertucci