Released Date: March 8th, 2011
By Evelyn Miska Krieger
For Wye Oak first-timers, Civilian is an excellent way to get introduced to the band. The collection is a fine balance between modern folk, rock with just the right amount of shoegaze thrown in to keep things interesting. It is a complex album and just when you think you know where a song is going, Wye Oak takes it in a different, carefully chosen, direction.
Opening with “Two Small Deaths,” Civilian gets off to a good start. Although the mishmash sound effect of people talking at the very beginning of the song doesn’t particularly add anything, the rest of the track makes up for this one not so great decision. Like many of the songs, “Two Small Deaths” is dreamy in a way similar to that of The Shins. The lyrics are generally slurred and almost slippery sounding, but not so much that you can’t understand a word being sung. As listeners will often find, the chorus is pretty in a soft and elegant way which makes an interesting contrast with some of the other styles they make use of throughout.
Occasionally some of the songs become almost a little bit creepy and “Holy Holy” fits this description. Even though for some listeners the repeated “holy holy” may bring back memories of church services, it clearly is anything but a church type song. The bridge coming up on the two minute mark is particularly beautiful and there’s something about the vocals and guitar accompaniment which then contrasts with the more gritty sound that comes immediately after with the added electronic effects in the background. Similarly, “Dog Eyes” has a great guitar solo roughly a minute into the track which does a nice job of showing the variety and inventiveness which the band has. Throughout “Dog Eyes” it’s hard to ignore how much Jenn Wasner sounds like Edie Brickell, but that’s definitely not a bad thing.
It never hurts when an album’s title track is a knockout. “Civilian” is absolutely no exception. One of the most gorgeous songs on the entire album, “Civilian” has the perfect blend of vocals, guitar and organ plus a bit of a gritty sound as the track segues into a bit more of a rock style halfway through. It is just the kind of song that listeners will want to listen to over and over again. “Plains” is another area where listeners hear the careful combination of modern folk and shoegaze. Occasionally there is a little too much distortion added in for effect, but the overall concept is cohesive with the rest of Civilian.
This is one of those introspective albums that takes a little time to discover the total richness of the songs, but it isn’t so out there that one would have to listen to it ad nauseam in order to begin to glean a little of its excellence. Is it the feel-good hit of the summer? Definitely not, but it is the perfect thing to put on when you’re looking for something a bit more substantial.
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