Wye Oak, coming out of Baltimore’s indie woodwork, has been named “Hot New Band” by Spin and “Band of the Year” by the Baltimore City Paper over the course of this year. The twenty-something duo (couple? friends? does it matter?) of Jenn Wasner (vocals and guitar) and Andy Stack (drums, keyboard and bass) was signed to Merge Records, home to the Arcade Fire, She and Him, Dinosaur Jr., Polvo, and Spoon, in early 2008.
Formed in 2006 under the moniker Monarch, Wasner and Stack were basement recorders, making music to fill in the lulls of unemployment. Their self-released debut album “If Children”caught the eye of Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan of Merge who was taken by the song, “Warning.” The label suggested they choose a more distinct name, and so they chose Maryland’s official state tree and largest white oak in the U.S.
Wye Oak is unlike bands that use noise like a wide paintbrush, covering all that they do with dense feedback and volume--surprisingly so, too, coming from the spasm and flash music scene of Baltimore, home to Dan Deacon and Ponytail. Their music is a fusion of folk, keyboard-laced indie-pop, and straight-ahead rock with ethereal atmospherics. If Children” leans more to the shoegaze side of things with wistful guitar and voice that the Baltimore City Paper said “erupt like pent-up animals, as vicious as a grizzly bear, as graceful as a swan.”
“The Knot”(7/21/09) became Stack’s senior thesis project at the University of Maryland Baltimore Country where he is a recording major. The whole album was recorded in Stack’s grandfather’s house and their living room. The album brings out the droning Americana that has always informed Wye Oak’s sound, such as the dark and harrowing “Mary is Mary”or the melodica on “Talking About Money.” Wasner’s sorrowful croon especially stands at the forefront on this album, delivering lyrics about youth, dreams, and hyper-personal experiences. Tinged with hope and regret, Wasner’s voice is an instrument well suited to the album’s lyrics, which track various relationship dynamics and the singer’s affective response to them.
A band whose recorded sound is rich with layers often has difficulty playing live, but that is not the case for Wye Oak. Wasner stands boldly at the mic with her guitar, while Stack takes on the job of three musicians, playing drums with one hand and keyboards or bass with the other, and creating loops for the set. Check out a live, and wobbly, video to catch a glimpse of how Wye Oak performs
Wye Oak plays the Iron Horse at 10 p.m. on Friday, December 5 with Northampton indie band, Fiesta Brava.