EPs are always such a joy: They offer a space for bands to blow off steam, experiment, or throw together outtakes from a successful writing period, all in a bite-sized chunk. For a listener, EPs can be exhilarating documents of a band’s creative process. The Baltimore duo Wye Oak take an all-of-the-above approach for the My Neighbor/My Creator EP; it serves as an introduction to where they’ve been and possibly where they might be heading.
On last year’s The Knot, Wye Oak further developed their own signature sound, combining the noisier elements of post-rock with folk in a gauzy sheen, courtesy of drummer and producer Andy Stack. My Neighbor finds the band still enamored with big, widescreen sounds, but with a few tweaks. “My Neighbor” kicks the EP off on a buoyant note — musically at least. Wasner’s lyrics tend to be pretty dour. An avalanche of guitar notes nearly turns the song upside down, but Stack’s polyrhythmic drumming keeps things grounded. “Emmylou” and “My Creator” serve as divergent musical paths. The former is a sugar-rushed storm of words and guitars that deviates strikingly from most of Wye Oak’s slow-motion catalog. The latter is another slice of their particular brand of fingerpicked shoegaze that could have easily fit into The Knot.
Wye Oak’s most impressive element has always been Wasner’s voice: It’s strong and confident (two qualities that are sorely lacking in most indie music these days), especially on “My Neighbor.” Wasner begins “I Hope You Die” absolutely wounded, but her vocals grow in strength with each ascendant chorus. Once again, Stack provides a head-nodding backbeat that’s complex but, oddly enough, almost danceable. The subtle hip-hop and electronic influences spread throughout the EP (and Wye Oak’s entire catalog) come into focus on the “Mickey Free” remix of this Knot standout “That I Do.” Mickey Freeland (working with his brother Chris, also a producer) takes the original’s ferocious, dirge-like quality and makes it positively apocalyptic and club-ready: sirens and all sorts of electronic detritus wail in the background, and Freeland even provides a dark verse of his own.
The left-field influences make this EP (and Wye Oak) so interesting. You can actually see the band taking giant strides forward instead of staying static and churning out staid guitar rock. However, with the new sounds comes a loss of dynamics. This is the first time the band has used an outside producer, and as a result the songs are much denser, scrapping the sparseness that made The Knot enjoyable. If Wye Oak can head down these new musical roads on their own terms, a real masterpiece could be lurking on the horizon.