In June, I saw Wye Oak perform at the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA right after the duo had pulled a Beyoncé and dropped a surprise album called Tween. Wye Oak comprises singer/songwriter Jenn Wasner with her twangy guitar tone and soaring vocals, and drummer Andy Stack who is often playing bass lines on a keyboard with his left hand while drumming with his remaining limbs (and also looking like he walked out of a Portlandia episode). This multitasking combined with the energy that Wye Oak have when they perform was what impressed me most the first time I saw them live in 2011. I have been in love with their music ever since.
Tween is a mini-album of only 8 tracks, one of which is just a short intro called, “Out of Nowhere,” – appropriate, given how the album was released. Tween is an album of previously unreleased tracks from the last 5 years, which I appreciate because not only do the songs not feel like outtakes (a lot of these songs are my favorite Wye Oak songs to date), but the album has a stylistic freedom that a typical full-length album can’t afford. There is a great variety of moods and textures on this album which keep the listener guessing from beginning to end.
The song that stands out the most for me, “If You Should See,” opens with a quick drum fill and then a beautiful wash of guitar arpeggios and sustained synth chords. The verses of this song represent the usual brand of dreamy folk that one can expect from them. The B section, however goes somewhere else. The whole feel becomes choppier, and the meter becomes irregular. I hear it as two measures of 4, followed by two measures of 5, and then one measure of 6, but it is ambiguous enough that it could probably be broken up in other ways.
The next song, “No Dreaming,” starts with a lethargic trudge upwards in the guitar, over which Wasner’s vocals float effortlessly. This song also showcases quite a bit of their electronic experimentation that they started doing on their previous album Shriek. “Too Right,” is Wye Oak at their most Alice in Chains, which is something I never thought I would say. “Better (For Esther)” contains some more metric weirdness, and then “On Luxury,” is the only song on Tween that is obviously an outtake from Shriek, with its slow-grooving electronica. “Trigger Finger,” is a moody and ominous track. Between the ethereal 7/8 guitar arpeggios and reverb-drenched vocals, Wasner creates an atmosphere that is easy and comfortable to get lost in. There is very little percussion on this track, but Stack did play a pretty gnarly drum solo during this song at the live show.
And finally we come to “Watching the Waiting,” which left me feeling confused the first time I listened to Tween all the way through. This song is drastically poppier than anything else on the album, especially coming from the melancholic sprawl of the song that immediately precedes it. I like that they end this record on an upbeat note though. It feels to me like they’re saying, “The world can be a sad and dismal place, but you know what? Let’s have a good time anyway!” And they leave you there instead of in the dark.
Songs from Tween you should listen to…