Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Josh Niles and Adam Cooke, Nashville, Tennessee
What you're about to read is an essay that we wrote about Wye Oak almost five years ago. We feel like there's still something to it, though the incredible duo has shifted themselves somewhat. We leave you with some new music and some old words.
The weather. We're blaming it. Or toasting or roasting it for the chilling and formidable pallor that it places upon the undertones of the music of Wye Oak. The duo represents the side of Baltimore that Beach House represents. This is the side of the city that finds dead bodies in the woods behind their homes, but turns that experience into a lesson in time - some frozen expressions, a lot of holy shits, shockingly aghast attitudes and then reticent digestion that could later evolve into what "Mary Is Mary" turned out to be.
You (if you were there as Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack of Wye Oak were) find yourself glad to have not been the one found dead in the woods, swirling with all of the questions of a neighborhood, a coroner, the sheriff and the birds. The way that the majority of the Baltimore "orioles" would have treated the scene would have been to convert it into a raging rage in the hip terms of partying and maybe causing some lighthearted havoc, just feeding off of the absurdity and the lucky strike that the material could be turned into thrashing, trashing dance music to get sweaty on.
Wye Oak would prefer to dissect the situation and ask the questions of the dead body, lodging the mind into the curious circumstances that led to its end - the thought that there lies a piece of person that used to be someone's little girl or little boy. We're assuming that the body was discovered with the help of some search hounds and a party of concerned citizens and law enforcement members under a cold and dreary sky, or so we'd be led to believe from the song that Wasner sings. A thick gray sky is like a fine coat and when a day acts like a leaky faucet, dribbling a constant rain all over a place, it's best to have some music that will lace the scene with some justice, with a pull in the direction of haunted dynamics.
When Wasner - and even Stack in a different, but similar touch - sings her pained songs, they fall off of her lips like warm drops of summer water, slipping down a crooked tree branch that's no more than a poor man's stick, inching to the cliff of the softened wood and then falling fatally onto the concrete below. While the water is in the air and loneliest, is where we find our heroes, the stars of these plays. Wasner and Stack embrace the tattered and fragmented slices of what trips us up all too often and they frame it into a lovely stretch that seems like a cracked ceiling that we might look up at during the night and curse.
The songs on find themselves there where they're out of the way of any stampede, off the beaten path and fending for themselves as everything gets worked out. There's eloquence in the darkened corners and these dampened spirits, in the frayed and foiled masses, where the concern isn't grave, but it is important. It's a treat to hear such things sound so bare and to get close enough to touch the barrenness and feel how critical it all could have been or still could be. Wasner sings, "You've got years in you," and it sounds as if it's a remark on what dwells within, how it's aged more than the skin, and it's completely out of the reach of the harshest elements. Or is it? It's a reference to that old soul foundation that some feel is the interior skeleton of some people, when the eyes and the plumbing suggest that heart and the inner springs have been used for an amount of time that can't be answered for. The weather has an advantage when it gets inside, as evidenced by Wasner and Stack. It's an inside job that works its way out. It's an old method that always works.
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