Wye Oak Is A Rare Band That Actually Delivers On Lofty, Poetic Promises

Shervin Lainez

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I write about music on the internet for a living, which means a couple things: I can wear what I want to work because nobody sees me typing away at the desk in my bedroom, and I get dozens of emails every day from PR people sharing what new work the artists they represent are trying to promote.

For those of you who don’t read these press releases on the daily, they typically go something like this: Along with the album cover, tracklist, and usually some upcoming tour dates too, they’re filled with over-the-top flowery language about what inspired the artist to make this batch of songs, and quotes explaining what sort of sounds they were trying to channel and what mystical places the songs are meant to take you to.

Engaging in this sort of world-building that makes the album seem like a great place to be sounds like a good idea, but it can be problematic when the artist isn’t able to deliver on these high-apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes. Sadly, that happens more often than it doesn’t. That’s a trap Wye Oak could’ve easily fallen into with their new album, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, but thankfully, they didn’t — and it’s not because they didn’t make big promises.

When revealing the album’s existence to the world earlier this year, press materials described it as “[pursuing] a litany of modern malaises, each of its dozen tracks diligently addressing a new conflict and pinning it against walls of sound, with the song’s subject and shape inextricably and ingeniously linked.” Later, on the way home from SXSW, the band’s Jenn Wasner wrote a lengthy essay about the tumultuous journey that led her to now.

So far, it’s been quite the ride: Wye Oak has been a noteworthy and flat-out excellent band for over a decade now, and their six albums have been a key component of Merge Records’ roster of indie excellence. All the while, Wasner has had to contend with her own anxiety, guilt, and perfectionism, all of which can inhibit meaningful art just as easily as it can fuel it. You have to imagine that the band’s Andy Stack also had some adversity of his own to contend with as well.

In other words, there’s a lot going on outside of the record itself, but if the actual aesthetic product isn’t on par with the framing that presents it, then all you’ll be left with is an empty picture is. Here’s the thing, though: Wye Oak really pulled it off.

Going back to the bit of press quoted earlier, musically speaking, the album really does “diligently [address] a new conflict” on each of its tracks, in the sense that it’s not a record made to run in place. The band promised an album that takes your hand and guides you through a deep journey where each twist is a memorable moment, and each turn is something new and eye-widening. Even halfway through the album and beyond, every song is still trying something different and making good on that promise.

“The Instrument” has vibes of Björk but with more sense of direction, and the title track spends four minutes wonderfully piling on the anticipation as it builds and builds and builds (and builds). “Lifer” brings that tension right down with a dream pop ideology that’s undercut with some piercing guitar work, while “It Was Not Natural” is an epic ballad with a downright funky bass line, and “Symmetry” is led by an electro-pop synth and giant crescendos with glitchy accents. And that’s just in the first half of the album, which from there continues to be as much of a multi-directional adventure as the band rightfully claims it to be.

That’s why the album works: Wye Oak walks the walk just as well as they talk the talk. It turns out that all it takes to make one of the year’s best albums is actually doing what you said you were going to do… which is hard to pull off, and why records as diverse and interesting as this don’t come out often. It takes uncommon ambition to dream up music this strong, and the ability to execute on those ambitions is even rarer, but Wye Oak had both when making this creative and exciting musical adventure that is as they describe it.

It’s hard to know who to trust these days, but Wye Oak hearkens back to a time when a band’s word and a publicist’s storytelling meant something (if such a time ever existed). If Wasner and Stack look you in the eye and tell you what their music will do, trust them, because unlike many other artists, they will execute it.

The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs is out now via Merge Records. Get it here.