I thought Wye Oak was a folk band? I mean, they’ve been described as “indie folk-rock,” I suppose, but what’s this I hear on their latest full-length, Civilian? Heavy guitars? Crashing drums? Moments of intense emotion? Sounds a little bit like rock and or roll to me.
Ohhhh but that’s not to say the band hasn’t retained so much of their same sound. There are still sweet melodies, great song writing and Jenn Wasner’s trademark throaty (yet beautiful!) vocals. Wye Oak hasn’t been lost to the demons of rock music or anything like that. But the truth of the matter is that the two are kicking things up about six notches.
Album opener “Two Small Deaths” keeps things in the ethereal, folk arena, while the next track, the fantastic “The Altar,” does a nice trick of slowly building from that folk feel into the crushing opening riff of Civilian stand-out “Holy Holy.” By this point, you might think “well this is still certainly in the indie folk-rock range!” One guitar riff aside, you might be right.
But the best part about Civilian is that it evolves so naturally into territory you might not expect. By the album’s title track, “Civilian,” we’re back into the kind of hard-nosed, folk-rock expected of Wye Oak. But “Hot As Day” once again dives back into the rock territory, offering the kind of sweeping, emotional rock epic fused with Wye Oak’s own penchant for simplicity.
If there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s to not underestimate a talented band and to not try to pigeon-hole them into a genre (I’m looking at us, music blogs). Wye Oak has kicked up the production value and made a more commercially-accessible album, but the song writing is every bit as good, if not better than their previous records. It would be great to see them dip back into their more simplistic roots, but it’s nice to see a band evolve so well.
Civilian is available now on Merge.