Wye Oak, the Baltimore indie rock duo named for a 460-year old tree in their home state of Maryland, give off an appropriate balance of rooted strength and breezy pliability. They began as stylistic seedlings from a lineage of other bands, the product of, say, the Police’s Ghost in the Machine passed down through Yo La Tengo’s Electr-O-Pura. Throughout its evolution, the band generally maintains a steadfast, mid-tempo speed while building in complexity, resulting in the kaleidoscopic Civilian released earlier this year.
The album opens with a smattering of crowd noise folding into Jenn Wasner’s undulating guitar and Andy Stack’s tick-tock drums. Wasner’s dozy delivery lends itself easy to daydream analogy, along the lines of Victoria Legrand of fellow Baltimoreans Beach House or Mimi Parker of Low, but deeper, more entrenched in the sound. They are a less elfin Cocteau Twins for modern ears, and bring the Spectoresque shimmer of that band unabashedly to the forefront. With a little Who’s Next muscly orchestration thrown in for good measure.
Regardless of their stylistic genealogy, Wye Oak possesses a gravity greater than what two people ought to generate, working some sort of weird physics like binary stars do. “Holy Holy” erupts like a geyser, leaving marks on the scorched earth over which we are left to ponder, and just as we think we’ve figured it out, it erupts again. The Police influences are strongest on tracks like “Dog Eyes” and “Fish”—Wasner’s guitar sounds like it’s strung with coils pulled from Andy Summers’ bedsprings, whereas the somnambulant title track initially spools out like a biofeedback reading, then dramatically splinters like a tree struck by lightning. Civilian is wide-eyed, majestic and a little spooky, exactly the band to rage quietly against the lingering dog days of summer.
Wye Oak opens for Okkervil River at Tipitina’s on Friday, September 16 (9 p.m., $16 advance/$18 door) and for Explosions in the Sky on Wednesday, September 28 (10 p.m., $19 advance/$21 door).