Civilian came out in early 2011, and since then it’s become like a broken-in leather shoe that fits me so perfectly that I can slip it on when I want to go down to the Bodega for a coconut water to soothe a hangover, but it still looks good enough on me that I can wear them out on a date. This is a metaphor. Wye Oak’s Civilian is actually an album.
Civilian opens to sounds somewhere between the chatter and clatter of a party and the tuning of an orchestra and washes into the gentleness of Two Small Deaths. Jen Wasner’s voice and gentle arpeggiated guitar create a warm wash of sound. Then she begins her story with:
Two small deaths happened today
With that she builds slowly to the crescendo in the song Civilian, and then takes the rest of the album to set me back down on earth. The production is like watercolor pencil, distinct in some places, fading into a wash of muted colors in others. It’s the kind of sound that wraps itself all the way around me.
This is the kind of album some would call “overproduced” but I would probably call “well-produced”. It’s hard to believe this rich wall of sound is played by two people. Jen Wasner sings and plays guitar (and I think it’s fair to say she shreds when she needs to), and Andy Stack does percussion and everything else.
When I put it on my headphones for a long train ride, I never regret it. Ever. And then what seems like a few minutes later I think, “Aw man, it’s already over. What do I follow that with?” (Answer: Dum Dum Girls’ End of Days EP).
The Alter shows off Jen’s watery, Hendrix-like guitar playing
Dog’s Eyes is one of the most playful tracks on the album, showing the big changes in feeling an dynamic even in a single song with guitar that’s sometimes playful and sometimes lands like a crunching, squealing weight on your head.
Civilian is the core of the album, it’s crescendo, showing all of Jen’s delicacy and sonic wailing wall. I almost hate to include it out of context but it’s a damn good song.
Holy Holy is all swollen with a soft passion, and I think where Jen does her best singing on the song. She sounds almost like a modern Stevie Nicks here. Possibly my favorite song on the album.
Doubt? The tender sign-off to the album. I love how it ends on this note of tender reassurance: