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Wye Oak – Civilian album review

Do you remember the sense of safety and security you felt being driven around by your parents as a child?  That feeling that of course you would get to your destination, as surely as if you were being carried in their arms.  You would be lulled into a sort of half-sleep by the rhythm and regularity of the sights and sounds—the hum of passing motors, the street lamps flashing by, the gentle vibration of the tires on the pavement.   Then something abrupt would smash into your dream.  Maybe you pass a car wreck and the sirens and flashing lights and crying voices break into your trance like an electric phantom.  Maybe traffic stops suddenly and you have to squeal to a halt.  Whatever causes it, your sleepy-spell is broken and you are up and alert, heart pounding, paying attention.  But in the end you always arrived at your destination, and even through the moments of excitement you never lost confidence that your parents would take you there.

Wye Oak’s newest release Civilian provides a strangely comparable experience.  Singer Jenn Wasner controls the tone and pitch of her voice with the precision of a world-class skier negotiating the Alps while drummer Andy Stack’s sparse but metronomical drumming carries us along in a way that lets us trust where they’re going with each track.  Eruptive climaxes crash without warning through the hypnotic tapestry of guitar picking, exploding in a wave of distortion, but we always feel like we’ll be carried safely to the other side where things will be mellow once again.

While the band’s previous two releases, If Children and the Knot, left them standing in the side-stage, Civilian could push them into the limelight.  This richly produced album is not only what a good number of people are looking for, it also has something that music in general seems to need.  It provides an extremely listenable synthesis of music over the last thirty years.  There is a collage of unexpected influence—the Meat Puppets in tracks such as “Plains”, Sonic Youth in “Holy Holy”.  Radiohead seems to permeate throughout.  There is even a hint of Enya in there. If your mother hasn’t listened to anything new in fifteen or twenty years, this is an album that you can enjoy together.

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