By Michael Lello
Some music doesn’t spell things out for you. It doesn’t drop you off at your destination and it doesn’t leave you with a sense of closure. Most of life is like that, really: we spend more time thinking about what to do than doing. In “Civilian,” the third album from duo Wye Oak, Jenn Wasner plays the role of our subconscious, an ethereal and just-out-of-reach voice that’s trying to tell us something but not make the decision for us.
The sounds on “Civilian” are gauzy, lush and amorphous; the structures are hazy but distinct enough for you to find the tune. Wasner (vocals, guitars) and Andy Stack (drums, keyboards) work within the confines of indie folk, but reverb, distortion and electronics make this a shoegaze or dream pop album as much as a folk record. As just one of many examples of this swirling and “big” sound, you’ll find “The Altar,” an insistent electronic beat standing as a foundation for classic, punchy organ, looping guitar figures and, of course, that voice, oh, that voice of Wasner’s that makes you think she knows the future but won’t be sharing secrets any time soon.
“Holy Holy,”like all of “Civilian,” gives you an opportunity to embrace simplicity and complexity at the same time. Wye Oak play here in straight time, nothing fancy. The chords are simple too; you could teach yourself this one in a few minutes on your acoustic guitar. But with a little reverb, some haunting what’s-its buried in the background and Wasner’s shamanistic, half-mumbled singing, this is no amateur exercise.