CD review: Wye Oak, Civilian (with audio)

The opening track of Wye Oak’s third full-length opens with the sound of a roomful of voices, and in a way it’s 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 outfit’s previous efforts aren’t sonically inferior by any means, but Civilian clearly benefits from the band’s 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 Wasner’s 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 Civilian’s 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,” it’s 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.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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