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 songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on the Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, is “The Tower” by Wye Oak from the forthcoming 2014 album Shriek on Merge.
Since the beginning of their career, Wye Oak’s music has revolved around their uniquely cathartic songwriting, but as their discography has grown, the shape of the vehicle those songs are carried in has changed drastically. Formed in Baltimore in 2006 by guitarist/songwriter Jenn Wasner and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack, the pair first self-released their folk-indebted debut, If Children, in 2007 before it was picked up by Merge for wide release the next year. 2009’s more confident dynamics exercise The Knot and its ensuing tour built the band’s reputation for being a top-notch live act, not in the least because of the duo’s ability to play their increasingly complex arrangements without the help of any additional musicians, but it was 2011’s Civilian that served as the band’s breakthrough. Carried by Wasner’s deft guitar work and Stack’s thunderous rhythm, Civilian and its often painstakingly affective songwriting scored the band critical acclaim and a bigger audience than ever. However, the rigors of extensive touring took its toll on the pair, and they both opted to pursue other projects before returning to Wye Oak.
In fall 2013, they announced that their new record would be guitar-free (Wasner has switched to bass, Stack remains busy on keyboards and drums), eliciting more than a few raised eyebrows. However, the band’s electronic transformation may not be as unexpected as it seems. In between Civilian and Shriek, their forthcoming fourth album, due April 29th, the pair released “Spiral“, a uncharacteristically danceable tune that now seems like a sing of things to come, and Wasner showed off her inner synth and HI-NRG personas in Flock of Dimes and Dungeonesse, respectively. That being said, “The Tower” still feels like a leap forward for the band. Moving at a locked-in, midtempo groove, Wasner’s slightly modulated voice floats over a shimmering array of keyboards. Opting for a quick-release breakdown rather than the loud-quiet-loud tactics they so efficiently mined on “For Prayer” or “Holy Holy”, Wasner and Stack sound more methodical than ever, but never calculated, thanks to a stylistic shift that effectively reconfigures their palpable chemistry into a new, fascinating form.
Wye Oak will be touring behind Shriek well into 2014, and while they don’t have any Pacific Northwestern dates at the moment, their schedule is seemingly wide open after an appearance at England’s End of the Road festival in late August, so it’s very likely they’ll head out West after that. Get updates at the band’s website and Facebook page. We recently talked to Jenn and Andy during SXSW, and they talked a lot about how the new album’s sound came about, audience reception to the new songs and more. Watch the interview below along with a live performance of “Civilian”, recorded at KEXP in 2011, back when the guitar was Wasner’s main instrument: