Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack celebrate the milestone of being a band for 10 years. That is nothing to be scoffed at either there are few bands that reach that mark.
Before they came to be known as Wye Oak they were called Monarch they were working on the first album If Children (2007/2008). Their name was changed by the time of its release and the foundations had been laid for what was to become and continues to be a creative musical outlet.
If Children was first self-released in 2007 and then released on the marvellous record label Merge (Neutral Milk Hotel and Arcade Fire both on the label to. A great documentary on the label: Merge Records: 25 Years in 24 Minutes). That first release had eleven tracks gave us that first taste. What sets this album a part from the releases that followed is that Stack sung lead vocals on a few of songs, Regret, Archaic Smile and A Low to Mow. Regret is a simple song but I do love the picked acoustic guitar and Stack sings rather well and it mixes things up. For me the title track (sort of) If Children Were Wishes‘ lyrics are clever and the metaphoric nature of them really appeal to me:
My mother spent hers on impossible things,
My brother was money,
My sister was love, and I was world peace.My brother, he spent it,
My sister got pregnant, and all that I’m worth,
Will only come true,
When there are no more of us left on this earth‘.
The Knot followed in 2009 with it their sound took that step forward and they added to the growing number of strong songs. The duo recorded their longest tracks to date with Mary is Mary coming in at 7:36 minutes. A song of this length has to be captivating enough to keep your attention for that period of time which the track does. Moving from clean guitar and Wasner singing about someone finding s body in the back yard, whilst the other instruments build up to a slow and fitting pace. At the 3:34 mark Jenn does some great voice work. Andy then gives the song more pieces, Andy’s drumming becoming a larger part and moving the song along. Songs that I always find myself going back to are: For Prayer, Take It In Lice (XX Merge Offstage) and That I Do and Siamese (I can’t go through all the songs but they are all amazing). Siamese has one of my favourite string accompaniments to any song ever. The Knot capitalised on the potential shown on If Children and to this day is one of my most cherished records.
In between albums number 2 and 3 there was the EP My Neighbor/My Creator (2010) which had again more fantastic songs on such as I Hope you Die which is not as evil and nasty as you may think.
On March the 8th Civilian was released and like many was the record that got me into them, with the title track also being that song. It is also the most well known with over 5 million views on YouTube. The song incorporates all that the Baltimore pair learnt through the prior releases, magical musicianship and song writing of the highest order. Though many reviews say that Wasner’s lyrics moved up a level I personally have always thought she has had a way with words that many would love to have themselves, and has shown it on every release. On each and every album there are lyrics that have stuck with me. For example on this particular song they are,
‘I don’t need another friend,
When most of them,
I can barely keep up with,
I’m perfectly able to hold my own hand,
but I still can’t kiss my own neck’.
So poetic. Wasner’s voice is so unique plus her gift for writing lyrics really puts them in a field of their own. With songs that are just as strong like Hot As Day which reminds me of my sleep deprived self as one lyric goes, ‘Sleep is never long enough’. One song that certainly doesn’t get the attention it deserves is Dogs Eyes. A bit off sounding but that is the charm of it. It’s the guitar a twangy, oddness rings from the six stringed instrument with it roaring into a distorted lick leading into the verses. I know that fans of the band will now how good a track it is but others wont and it is a reason why I urge you to ALWAYS go and listen to a bands whole discography and find the album songs and B sides etc.
Yes Tween was released only a few months ago (June 9th, 2016) but chronologically it was recorded in the time between Civilian and Shriek. Tween bridged the gap between them and allowed the fans to walk across it showing the process that the band went through to get from one album to the other. On Luxury off the eight track surprise.
Coming to the latest part of the journey, Shriek (2014). Infamy surrounds it as I really did have trouble saying the title. I kept pronouncing it shrike like the bird and did so even after I learnt how to say it properly. My review in my student paper SCAN was the first music article I ever wrote, so it has somewhat a level of importance to me in that regard. But it is also a superb collection of songs are daring and a complete change of direction musically. A bold decision which many bands would possibly be afraid to make, but these two musicians took that risk and in doing so made my favourite album of that year.
I made sure I saw them at the Manchester Soup Kitchen on the tour supporting the album, even exams couldn’t stop me. I got there super early as I went on my own and wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to find the venue as I am not the most familiar area. So I arrived at the quaint venue at around 15:30. So I sat there with the revision notes I took with me, when I turned around to see Jenn standing there. I tried to keep my cool, and by that I mean turn away immediately. As I was ‘fan girling/boying’ internally I was thinking whether or not to go and say hello. I didn’t as they were bringing the gear in from the van down to the basement which is the area that they’d play in later. Then after they had done that and sound checked (where I heard the awesome Spiral being rehearsed) both members came back into the Soup Kitchen area (it is a food serving establishment as well as a gig venue) to get some food with their crew and supporting act. There they sat at the end of my table, a plate of Manchester’s finest grub in hand. Halfway through they moved to sit across from me on the opposite table, again I wondered if I should go say hi. But it would have been rude as they where having their tea.
Moving to the opening act, where yes you guessed it Andy stands right in front of me. Just say hi I scream internally. Nope. Silent I stayed. He soon goes and gets ready to perform. As they played I got myself to the very front and the gig was everything I hoped and more they played many favourites of mine and all the songs of Shriek bar Paradise. I still can’t get over how Stack plays the drums and the keyboard at the same time, how do you even! Anyway after the set was done I went to buy my shirt and just as I hand over the cash I look towards the stage and infront of it stands Andy. Not one to bug or bother artists after they have done their thing I usually just leave. But as he was already talking to people I thought why the hell not and plucked up the courage to ask if he would be so kind to sign my ticket, he was the nicest and did sign it, even though I was super apologetic thinking I was bothering him and kept thanking him and telling him how great the show was.
With every release Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack built upon their talents and have created some of the most solid records spanning the last decade. They deserve all the success and I am very grateful and proud to fly the Wye Oak flag for another 10 more years at least.