Somewhere between Neko Case’s reverb-drenched Americana rock and Beach House’s shoegazing whimsy is Wye Oak, a Baltimore duo whose new album, The Knot (out July 21 via Merge), is in heavy rotation here at SPIN.com.
First forming in 2006 under the name Monarch, the duo — 23-year-old Andy Stack (drums, keyboards, backup vocals) and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitar) — recorded their debut album, If Children and toured extensively. Soon, they were discovered by Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan, who was so impressed with their song “Warning” that he immediately signed them to his Chapel Hill, NC, label Merge.
To avoid confusion with other bands of the same name, the label suggested Monarch change their moniker. The duo chose Wye Oak — the state tree of Maryland and, FYI, the largest white oak in the U.S. — and reissued If Children. It’s this release that first hinted at the pair’s unique sound, a fusion of folk, keyboard-laced indie-pop, and straight-ahead rock with ethereal atmospherics. Wasner’s sorrowful croon stands at the forefront, delivering lyrics about youth, dreams, and hyper-personal experiences (feeling out of control, unloved, and self-conscious).
This sound is refined and focused on The Knot. On one of its best tracks, “Mary Is Mary” (listen below), Wasner opens with a slow, lush electric guitar hook and haunting, meditative lyrics that jump from death (she sings about “finding a body in my backyard”) to lost love (“What does she have that I haven’t got?”) to religious skepticism (“Oh, high and mighty, what do you know?”). The song comes on like a thunderstorm, building up with droning keyboards and spare-to-rumbling drums, but leaves languid and tranquil, like it entered, with Wasner performing alone.
LISTEN: Wye Oak, “Mary Is Mary”
Wye Oak wrap up their North American tour with another SPIN fave, Pomegranates, next week. Check ’em out — and look for a lanky blond guy (me!) at their New York gig.
5/9, Atlanta, GA (Drunken Unicorn)
5/10, Chapel Hill, NC (Local)
5/11, Washington, DC (Black Cat Backstage)
?5/12, Philadelphia, PA (Kung Fu Necktie)?
5/13, New York, NY (Mercury Lounge)?
5/14, Cambridge, MA (TT the Bear’s)?
5/15, New Haven, CT (Cafe Nine?)
5/16, Baltimore, MD (Metro Gallery)