By Jason Herring, March 28 2018 —
The 2018 lineup for Sled Island — Calgary’s shining yearly music and arts festival and without a doubt the best week of the year — made me practically scream with excitement. High on my most-anticipated list is Baltimore’s Wye Oak. Their 2011 album, Civilian, was a personal high school favourite and both one of the most compelling and overlooked slices of early-decade indie rock.
Luckily for nostalgic fans like myself, the latest from the duo — comprised of Jenn Wasner on vocals and guitar with Andy Stack as the jack-of-all-trades elsewhere — is a gorgeous distillation of everything that makes Wye Oak a force to be reckoned with. The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs routinely and effortlessly crafts pop earworms out of elaborate arrangements, usually consisting of Wasner’s longing voice atop frantic drums and an off-tempo guitar or keyboard riff.
Wye Oak demonstrate that knack for songwriting as soon as the album kicks off with “The Instrument,” a high-energy song that refuses to sit still, slowed only by throbbing bass undertones employed during its chorus. The title track follows, switching keyboard arpeggios during early verses for a distorted guitar riff that drowns the track’s final minute in a shoegaze daze.
The arrangements on Louder are remarkably busy but each piece fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. Despite heavy instrumental flourishes on each track, Wasner’s voice remains the main attraction, with her melodies given ample space to breathe.
Also among album highlights are the marching drum containment of “Say Hello” and its subsequent levity as it explodes away from its rhythmic rigours, and “I Know It’s Real,” a song heavy with heartache that closes the album perfectly.
Wye Oak are playing Sled Island on June 21 at the beautiful Central United Church — a venue almost as magical as the music Wasner and Stack are bound to conjure within its walls. There’s no better way to get hyped for that show than with Louder, an album whose lush nature makes it a wonder how the duo will translate it for one of Calgary’s best stages. I can’t wait to see how they’ll pull it off.