Music Nerd: Wye Oak and Volcano Choir

wye-oak-shriekShriek by Wye Oak

Wye Oak is a two-member band that makes a lot of noise. Singer Jenn Wasner became known for her mix of folky songwriting and heavy guitar outbursts. Drummer Andy Stack drums with his right hand (and both feet) while playing synthesizers and triggering sequencers with his left. A lot of reviewers have made a pretty big deal about this being their “no guitars” album—the synthesizers do much more melodic and harmonic heavy lifting here, while Wasner has switched to bass guitar, bringing some excellent grooves to these songs—but to me, the difference is largely textural. The same strong songwriting is on display here, it’s just more danceable now than rocking.

Their last album, Civilian, for me had a few standout tracks, and quite a few that honestly, were somewhat forgettable. This record never quite reaches those heights on any one song, but is much more consistent throughout. There is a warm, inviting quality to these songs—even as Wasner sings lyrics about the “fear of dying incomplete,” you feel comforted by the beautiful sounds swirling and pulsing around you. This is great driving-with-the-windows-down music, a record I think I’ll be returning to often this summer. You won’t even miss the guitars.

Volcano-choir-repaveRepave by Volcano Choir

also available on Hoopla

This group features Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on lead vocals, and although it is by most reports a more collaborative effort, one can trace a straight line from the dense, layered soundscapes of the second Bon Iver record to the dense, layered soundscapes of this one. The first Volcano Choir record, Unmap, was a little too meandering, a little too interested in experimentation for its own sake, yet it had many moments of shimmering beauty. It was especially exciting for those of us who fell under the spell of “Skinny Love” (IE: everyone), but generally had no interest in one more sad dude with an acoustic guitar (IE: me). Unmap opened up new sonic avenues for Vernon’s voice to travel down, Bon Iver, Bon Iver was a report from the road, and now Repave seems to me something like a destination.

Vernon’s striking falsetto is in full-effect here of course, along with some more unexpected dips down into his baritone range. He also continue to prove his ability to land a lyric that stops me in my tracks, such as “take note, there’s still a hole in your heart” on “Dancepack.” The band provide the kind of sweeping backdrop that best befits the impressionistic, yet intimate lyrics— again with much more focus here than on their last outing. Here is a band with an experimental approach to texture and song structure, but that doesn’t shy away from a hook that will get stuck in your head for days.

Timothy Volpert

Tim Volpert is a poet, musician, and sociologist born and raised in Topeka, KS. He works in the Bookmobile department, bringing books, movies, and music out into the community. He maintains a healthy obsession with the minutiae of pop culture, and is happy to share his knowledge with you--you don't even have to ask.