Wye Oak Blossoms With “Civilian”

Baltimore’s Wye Oak is a band so ambitious that it’s produced its (first) masterpiece while there are still no more than five rings around its arboreal trunk.  Civilian builds on 2009’s The Knot in unexpected ways, and reveals that The Decemberists choosing of Wye Oak as the opening act on its winter tour was recognition of a sapling now grown into a mighty tree.

We’ve never been big fans of two-person bands, from the Method Actors to the White Stripes, because live the sound of drums and guitar without the flaps tied down by the bass imperfectly protects the music from the buffeting of sonic wind.  But Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack aren’t just ambitious, they’re visionaries too, and rather than compromise with a third musician, they’ve come to the Centaur’s solution of having Stack play both drums and bass (keyboard.)  Um, at the same time.  At the Beacon Theater in January, when they opened for The Decemberists, we marveled at how well it worked, Stack holding down, if not a heavy bottom, at least a sufficiency of rhythm, one arm bashing the drum kit, the other stretched to the keyboard.  We’re guessing he’s also good at simultaneous translations of English to Mandarin, can program in C++, and never was bored as a child, since he could play catch without needing another kid to come over.

Wasner can also do circus tricks.  She can strum like Peter Buck and head into Distortionland like Thurston Moore.  On perhaps Civilian‘s most brilliant song, “The Alter,” Wasner embellishes upon Air’s “Surfing On A Rocket,” which itself was a take on Eno’s “St. Elmo’s Fire,with a sudden efflorescence into Frippertronics.  Wow.  We dare you to listen to “The Alter” and not go download this whole amazing album.  Wasner’s voice starts in Lida Husick alto depths, and can maybe range a little too far into Cranberries territory, but the effect of her singing, the mastery of  her guitar textures, and Andy Stack’s utility infielding should, with Civilian, introduce the proverbial wider audience to the charms of The Free State’s greatest gift to music since David Byrne.

Unfortunately their show Friday night at the Black Cat is sold out.  (Although for those of us with day jobs going to see Mary Timony play in Wild Flag Thursday night, maybe that’s a blessing.)  This isn’t the last chance we’ll have to see Wye Oak, though next time it’s likely them headlining at The Beacon.  Amazing.

One Response to “Wye Oak Blossoms With “Civilian””

  1. […] Wye Oak’s Civilian was released early in the year, we wrote that it was “a band so ambitious that it’s produced its (first) masterpiece while […]

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