Things start promisingly on Wye Oak's The Knot, with the slow thud of "Milk and Honey" and the simple but strong "For Prayer"—the latter of which could be regarded as a kind of template for most of the record. It's got everything that seems to define Wye Oak's sound: Jenn Wasner's voice up front on a quiet, sparse, almost folky verse; the slide guitar tucked into the mix to give it a subtle country undertone; the 90s-style guitar uproar juxtaposed against the quieter moments.
"For Prayer" is a great song, but as The Knot wears on, the pattern starts to feel tired. Maybe it's just because I've been mired in 90s indie/slowcore/post-rock lately, but Wye Oak's quiet/loud dynamic feels almost retro. Wasner and drummer Andy Stack seem like good students of indie rock's recent history—I hear a little early Breeders, some Helium, My Bloody Valentine, a lot of Rex, and other, more nebulous sounds of ten or fifteen years' past. But I get the sense that they haven't progressed beyond an undergrad's comprehension—they have a lot of tools but not enough imagination to make it seem new.
That makes me seem like an old curmudgeon. But seriously: don't you feel like a least a little bit of a fraud when you try to push the Apples in Stereo on your dad who grew up on the Beatles or the Beach Boys? Don't you feel just a little bit like a poseur when you play Bright Eyes for your Aunt who was there when Dylan burst on the scene? Isn't it a little presumptuous to play early Neko Case albums for your grandmother who has such fond memories of hearing Patsy Cline on the radio?
Don't misread: I'm not saying the more contemporary bands aren't worthwhile in their own right, or even possibly new classics. This isn't a case of "it's been done, why do it again?". But there is a specific kind of crankiness that comes with hearing new bands making music that fits maybe a little too snugly into the sound of the music you remember most fondly from the days when music became yours. Such is Wye Oak's effect on me, the thirtysomething blogger with a kid on the way—my days of being fazed by a dramatic guitar band blowing up my buddy's living room well behind me. Had I seen Wye Oak back then, I'd have descended upon their merch table as soon as I could tear myself away from nodding along in the front row.
That is to say, it might not be them; it's surely me. Someone with less baggage from the 90s might fall hard for The Knot. It's proving difficult for me (other than the brilliant standout track, "Tattoo"). I can't go so far as to say that Wye Oak sounds identical to some other overlooked band (though the country-meets-slowcore thing makes me crave Rex, a sadly forgotten and un-googleable band), but I also can't escape the feeling that it should have come from another era. The fact it didn't is what keeps me from embracing it. Aside from a few tracks, listening to The Knot just makes me wish I were listening to other records.
- Wye Oak: For Prayer