CD Review: Wye Oak — Civilian; Playing Black Cat, March 11 and The EARL, March 13

Wye Oak

By Al Kaufman

The cover of Civilian shows someone cannonballing into the water. With this, their third CD, Wye Oak jump head first into their role as indie-pop royalty. While their first two CDs, If Children and The Knot, were scaled back, stripped down affairs, Civilian presents the duo in all their rich and layered glory.

Jenn Wasner has one of the more seductive vocals in the indie pop curcuit. At times her voice soars like that of Delores O’Rordian of the Cranberries (as on “Hot as Day”), and at other times she brings in a smokey, jazzy flavor, such as when she utters the opening line to the record, “Two small deaths happened today while I was at work.”

Wasner’s partner in musical crime is multi-instrumentalist Andy Stack. Together, they build their songs about loneliness and letting go, finding the appropriate level for each sentiment. The lonely “Doubt” is simply Wasner with a guitar string. “Fish,” about a wasted life that returns to the sea, adds a gurgling bass line before slowly building into a paean. Although it is it not the same as the Throwing Muse song that shares the same title, it is a song that Kristin Hersh would be glad to call her own. “Holy Holy” begins with a fire and brimstone guitar, promises some tranquility halfway through, then abruptly returns to the the tumult.

While sometimes their tempo changes do not always work (the startling ending on “Plains” serving as a good example), more often than not they do. Traditional Wye Oak fans may find the duo’s entrance to a more sonic sound unnerving, fans of Beth Orton and Yo La Tengo should gladly welcome them into the fold.

Wye Oak play the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. with Lower Dens and Lands & Peoples on March 11…

… and The Earl in Atlanta, Ga. with Lower Dens and Callers on March 13.

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