Wye Oak Look Out at 'No Horizon'

Photo: Kendall Atwater / Courtesy of Merge Records

Wye Oak's songs are haunted by the familiar as bits of old melodies, percussive beats, stray conversations, street sounds, and the natural world seem to float in and out of their compositions.

No Horizon
Wye Oak


31 July 2020

Wye Oak are an experimental rock duo originally from Maryland who took their name after the official state tree, which had historical importance but was long dead before the band was formed. The enigmatic reference to the past, nature, and the strangeness of what's already known describes the band's music as well. Their songs are haunted by the familiar as bits of old melodies, percussive beats, stray conversations, street sounds, and the natural world seem to float in and out of their compositions in seemingly haphazard ways. This is especially true of their new five-song EP, No Horizon, where Andy Stack (drums, keyboards, backup vocals) and Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitars and bass) seem to be purposely directionless. They are joined by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, whose voices lend a structured beauty to the seeming disorder of the material.

Describing Wye Oak's music is difficult. It's mostly acoustic with a strong presence of hushed synthesizers, drum machines, and processed electronic noises. The material can be purposely vague and eerily atmospheric, as suggested by song titles such as the philosophic "No Place" and the instrumental "(cloud)". However, portions of the songs can also be precise and loaded with meaning, such as "AEIOU" that concerns the limits of language in describing human beings and personal experiences.

It's as if Wye Oak is speaking in a secret code, as suggested on "Sky Witness" because "The world is just a concept / Everything has hidden meaning / Trees in the wind are tapping Morse Code against my window…." The accompanying music is layered and changes pace and tone frequently during this six-minute song before it ends with an elongated sigh. What it all means is that everything means something—but what that is remains unknown. They are content to let the mystery be.

The EP is full of weird and catchy soundbites, such as "Understanding / As a weapon", "When we are hungry / We eat our ideas", and "Words can suggest my likeness like a painting" that draw one in to listen closer. But it is the entire package, the mix of sounds and language that captivates. Trying to decipher the words from their larger sonic context is a senseless task. They are meant to be experienced together.

That's one of the implications of the title. The horizon is the line that separates the earth from the sky and divides the world into two parts. The visible horizon is what one sees when looking out in the distance at a place blocked by trees, buildings, and such. Having No Horizon suggests that one can perceive the whole world as one. There is "No Place", or there is only everywhere at once, and this metaphorically implies the same about body / spirit, individual / other people, thought / action, etc. We are all one.

It should be noted that this EP is available as a 12-inch EP on pink vinyl housed in a screen-printed clear plastic sleeve. There's something odd about the physical product standing out on an album about the fact that we are all part of the same world, but that is also part of the point. We all may be part of something bigger, but we are also distinct individuals.






Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone can undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.