Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on The Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, is “Civilian” by Wye Oak from their 2011 release, Civilian, on Merge.
Baltimore-based indie folk duo Wye Oak took their name from the 460-year-old tree in their home state of Maryland, and their music sounds just as timeless. A captivating blend of indie folk and scuzzy rock guitars, Wye Oak can swiftly change from touching folk ballad to screeching noise pop in an instant, but their transitions are so smooth and elegant that you barely notice when the song changed - you only know that it did. Such is the case with today’s Song of the Day selection, the title track from their third album. Mournful guitar plucking is backed by stomping drums that slowly build until the guitar jolts into distortion, leaving any semblance of romanticism behind.
The duo began their career under the name Monarch, recording their debut in various basements and apartments until they landed a record deal with the indie heavyweight Merge, who later re-released the record. That album, If Children, established Wye Oak as one of the pillars of the alt-folk scene, drawing together influences like the noise-spaz freakouts of Sonic Youth to the male-female dynamic of Yo La Tengo. It’s an impressive arsenal for a band with only two members, but both multi-instrumentalists prove to be far more than the sum of their parts.
Below, watch the band perform a special live acoustic version of the track on a rooftop (via Face Culture). Even without the benefit of their full instrumentation, “Civilian” manages to be one of the highlights of the year so far.