Wye Oak's second album, The Knot, shares some similarities with their first (If Children), which I listened to before prepping to write this review (said prep involving listening to The Knot on repeat ad nauseam in noise-canceling earphones, at times closing my eyes and concentrating very hard and even [beyond explanation, really] pulling my head in closer to my laptop in an instinctual move to try to listen more closely to hear every instrument and every word—a goal which still has not been achieved at least 4 or 5 times through the album later).
Whereas If Children is somewhat upbeat, The Knot leaves any trace of that behind, starting with "Milk and Honey" where a slowly thudding beat and piano are slowly intruded upon by layered walls of guitar and feedback that build steadily to a noisy head at the end of the song. This is an album that finds itself somewhere around the intersection of Americana and shoegaze: steel guitars and slide work and the occasional accordion float in and out of guitar drones and feedback loops à la My Bloody Valentine or Yo La Tengo, like in "Take It In" where the instrumental prechorus forces itself in with dirty, bent guitars and crashing cymbals, building to a crescendo as the song draws to the close (also cf. "Mary Is Mary" which follows a similar trajectory, though it ends quietly). The noise and the quiet exist peacefully side-by-side, each projected with the same intensity.
The lyrics match the darker tone of the music. "Oh baby, you're a child," the callous narrator of "Take It In," sings. "You fall asleep / And I get wild. / I turn to smoke when you need air. / I'm sorry, baby, I don't care." The rest of the lyrics follow suit, mood-wise: songs about love and loneliness. That is, of course, when I could make the lyrics out—this is about the only gripe I had with the album: the vocals are mixed low enough that once the dynamics get to about forte, the lyrics are identifiable as English, but the individual words get lost to my ears. I feel like such an old man writing that, six months shy of my thirtieth birthday: Wye Oak, however, are welcome on my lawn any time.
If Children was a strong debut release, but as I listened to it, I kept hearing Elliott Smith in Andy Stack's voice and the Deal sisters in Jenn Wasner's. The Knot marks development in Wye Oak's sound, in that all I could think of when listening to The Knot was "This sounds like Wye Oak." This is a band clearly coming into its own.
Favorite track: "Siamese"