The opening track of Wye Oaks third full-length opens with the sound of a roomful of voices, and in a way its the idea of sifting through clattering, dissonant noise that marks this deeply personal and often emotionally moving effort. While the ten songs on Civilian were written in the wake of difficult times that singer-guitarist Jenn Wasner was going through, it still takes more than a handful of listens to get to what the lyrics are really saying.
Instead, the first thing that ears will notice when the theoretical needle hits the record is how pristine it all sounds. Any one of the Baltimore, Md.-based outfits previous efforts arent sonically inferior by any means, but Civilian clearly benefits from the bands decision to stop worrying about technical details (they recorded and mixed their previous LPs themselves) to give mixing engineer John Congleton complete control of the board.
The glistening feedback that starts Two Small Deaths gives way to guitar that sits front-and-center while simultaneously giving Wasners vocal which is as powerfully seductive as its ever been room to deliver instantly memorable, affecting melodies, which mark almost every second of the release.
Album highlight, Dog Eyes, is one of the only tracks that somewhat follows the sort of verse/chorus pattern which marks most tunes these days, but where words might be utilized to deliver a hook, Wasner and drummer Andy Stack commission an earth-shaking, half-time wash of guitar, dredging drums, and indecipherable, multi-tracked vocals that make you wonder who the hell decided all songs needed to follow the same song structure anyway.
And at the end of the day, its Civilians ability to entice repeated listens without ascribing to normal songwriting rules that makes it worth multiple spins. The lyrics may not be cut & dry after one, two, or even three listens, but from the elegant simplicity of Plains to the quiet introspection of We Were Wealth to the roaring coda on Holy Holy, its a record whose rich sonic qualities reveal something worth appreciating each and every time.
Civilian is released on March 8 via Merge records. Check it out at the band's website.