It seems these days that in order for a band to make waves within the indie elite, it has to favor irony and self-conscious musical references over heartfelt and honest music. Wye Oak is not one of these bands. Their sophomore album, The Knot, isn’t complete with chamber orchestras from space and choir members from around the world singing in atonal harmony, but it is breathtakingly harrowing.
Real-life Baltimore couple Jenn Wassner and Andy Stack make music so piercing, so memorable,that it’s a shame that it will likely fall under the shadow of this year’s more obvious musical heavyweights.
Wassner’s smoky vibrato-less warble is both seductive and world-weary, aged in the confines love has placed her in, barely capable of ascending above the cloud of smoke that surrounds her, but never failing to leave a trail of goose bumps along the way. She is also an adept guitar player, and on “Tattoo” and the brilliant “Talking About Money,” she proves her chops by conjuring entire atmospheres; on the former, unadulterated joy, the latter, a profound stasis of uncertainty.
On The Knot, Wassner and Stack seem to have done the unthinkable as a couple by tracking a romantic breakdown inch by inch. It is dangerous territory, and one that undoubtedly resulted in a painful realization or two for the couple. But it is because of this that the duo is capable of generating moments of such intensity. Album opener “Milk and Honey” begins with a slow, deliberate kick/stomp before unraveling into a cacophony of feedback, accordion, and high-octane emotion. Much like well-suited album closer “Sight, Flight,” with its slow-burn feel and lead violin providing barely a shred of hope among the despair gently washing over the track.
Don’t kid yourself: The Knot isn’t a happy album by any stretch of the imagination, but optimism can be found within the notion that Wassner and Stack, by some strange alchemy, make sadness beautiful. In so doing, they have made an album that needs to be heard.