Wye Oak Look Out at 'No Horizon'
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.
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.
- Wye Oak: Civilian - PopMatters ›
- Wye Oak: Shriek - PopMatters ›
- Wye Oak: Tween - PopMatters ›
- Wye Oak: 7 April 2011 - Chicago - PopMatters ›