Wye Oak — Tween
Struggle has always been at the heart of Wye Oak’s music. In the ten years since their inception, Jen Wasner (guitar, bass, synths, vocals) and Andy Stack (drums, synths) have battled relationship woes, exhaustion from constant touring, and even guitar boycotts. Starting as a more of a lo-fi indie-folk band, their last album (2014’s Shriek) saw them veer more towards electronic, 80's-influenced pop.
Wye Oak’s latest release Tween (Merge) sees the band continuing to embrace their electronic leanings yet with a welcome return of Wasner’s coveted guitar. This time, however, the guitar offers more of a gauzy, ambient accompaniment than a showcase like in their earlier albums. Opening track “Out of Nowhere” is a swirling, near-instrumental intro with a percolating bass line, with Wasner’s heavily-processed vocals providing an almost choral-like backdrop. In contrast, “If You Should See” sounds almost like a lost Cocteau Twins song. Much like Cocteau’s Elizabeth Frazer, Wasner’s voice has an angelic quality to it that focuses more on phonetic beauty and twisty melodies than perfect diction. On “No Dreaming”, the guitar sounds simultaneously delicate and hazy, and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Durutti Column album. The track is signature Wye Oak — a blend of lazy, melancholic guitar rock overlaid with Stack’s shimmery percussion and interspersed with louder, distorted passages.
The rest of the album continues much in the same vein, from minor-chord dirges (“Too Right”), atmospheric pop (“Better (For Esther)”, the skittery ”On Luxury”), and ambient experiments (“Trigger Finger”). The final track “Watching the Waiting” is oddly reminiscent of stompy folk bands like Mumford & Sons, albeit without the banjo. However, it works better than any M&S tune due the quality of the vocal melody, and is perhaps a nod to their earlier folk leanings.
The band doesn’t consider Tween to be an album or an EP in the traditional sense. Rather, it exists as a collection of songs that either didn’t fit on their prior album Shriek or were written since it was released. Given that, it’s not surprising that it feels less like a cohesive whole than Wye Oak’s prior albums, yet the consistent production prevents it from feeling like a cast-off selection of B-sides. At the core of Wye Oak’s music has always been the inherent conflict between loud and soft, light and darkness, beauty and injury. While it may not be the best introduction to the band, Tween is a worthy addition to their discography and offers hope that they’re not ready to give up the struggle just yet.