Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs

by Jon Burke Rating:9 Release Date:2018-04-06
Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs

The gift and the curse of being Jenn Wasner has never been made so clear as it is on Wye Oak’s latest single, “Lifer.” I don’t mean that Wasner is some tortured soul or that she’s in need, or want, of pity—far from it. Wasner remains one of the most powerful, compelling and talented bandleaders of her era. Instead, what “Lifer” clarifies is the melancholy behind her timeless voice, her unfulfilled wish for existential balance and the positions of extreme vulnerability she’s willing to assume in order to fully connect with an audience:

“It seems to those who know me best/ My luck is wild and in excess/ I don’t know why some suffer so/ And others never fear to go/ I won’t reduce myself to air/ Undo myself for your affair/ I’ve shown you everything I am/ You choose or not to understand.”

In a single song, Wasner sums up her career, exposes a bruised spirit and assures us she will be alright. It’s a masterpiece on a record which is itself the most fully formed album from Wye Oak to date.

Wye Oak has spent over a decade forging what is essentially an evolutionary sound. Just when they seem to establish a formula, the band makes a significant change in their approach to music, and suddenly their output ceases to fit neatly into any genre. It also ceases to align with critical expectations—which leads to consistently rewarding first listens and an increasingly short supply of proper analogies and metaphors describing the band’s sound. On Wye Oak’s latest record, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, the band has freed themselves from the sonic constraints of their last full-length, Shriek, which eschewed guitars for synths and bass. The result was an incredible, albeit guitar-less, record that set a high bar for whatever was to follow. Needless to say, Wye Oak has once again followed their last great record with another great record.

The guitars are back for The Louder I Call… but so are the gorgeous synths of Shriek. Tracks like “The Instrument” sprint ahead on complex beat structures. The album’s title track initially sounds like something Peter Gabriel would have recorded in the early-80s. But then, like so many of The Louder I Call…’s tracks, Wasner’s voice comes in and turns the electronic into the angelic. The way the band layers her voice on certain tracks (“Symmetry,” “Over and Over”) is so transcendent it borders on decadent. Wasner’s voice, which often feels deeply soulful, disturbingly innocent and endlessly wise—all at once—is truly the secret weapon on The Louder I Call… a record that solidifies Jenn Wasner as one of most important voices of her generation.

Lyrically speaking, Wye Oak has always been reticent to specify. The band’s unwillingness to settle into a specific genre has led to lyrical obfuscation. However, the universality of songs like “It Was Not Natural” come across as attempts to connect to all listeners rather than just the band’s poetic limits:

“As I expected/ With time it hasn't gotten easier/ I have to work now/ At things that used to be like breathing/ I try to focus/ Forgive myself for having so much/ I am too busy [fooling?]/ Or else I am not busy enough?”

I’d love to be able to offer-up comparisons to other artists in order to persuade you to buy this record. The problem is there are few to be had with any tangible ties to Wye Oak’s sound. The band has a gift for catchy pop but, in general, seem to avoid the references that pop musicians make to one another. Sure, “My Signal” sounds a bit like Vespertine-era Bjork and obviously both Stack and Wasner have taken some lessons from Brian Eno’s production work but otherwise Wye Oak seem pleasurably unique. Their peers in Sylvan Esso, who also make uniquely catchy pop, don’t even come close because, where Sylvan Esso seems interested in moving butts, Wye Oak works instead to shake spirits. It’s the execution of that appealing, heartfelt instinct that makes The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs easily one of the best records of 2018.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    One of those bands that positively seers just underneath the surface. I really loved The Knot ever since I found it in a bargain bin a few years back. I should update that experience. Great advocacy Jon.

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