I came across Wye Oak around the same time I came across Phantogram. I’d heard their album The Knot right around the same time as I’d heard Phantogram’s Eyelid Movies. I was impressed with the whole guy/gal dynamic in both bands. They weren’t doing the whole garage rock thing which I really wasn’t into. Wye Oak was folksy and almost slowcore, while Phantogram had this indie electro pop thing that I really dug. Both had songwriting and self-producing chops, too. But with each successive record, while Wye Oak seemed to keep pushing their sound out of where they began, Phantogram just took the formula they’d begun with and turned it into something shinier and more expensive sounding. Jenn Wasner’s lyrics and melodies reflected growth and deeper reflection, where Phantogram seemed more about sound, production, and dance floors. Nothing wrong with any of that, but Wye Oak has remained an ever-growing and intriguing band(and without collab albums with Big Boi.)
Like I said, with each successive album Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack seem to want to push themselves sonically. On 2014s Shriek, they moved from the indie folk sounds to something more electro/dream pop. Though with the addition of synths and electronic beats, the songwriting remained strong and the main focus. They are back with The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, and though the indie folk vibes and slowcore grooves are few and far between, Wasner’s ever-engaging voice remains intact. And with that, so does Wye Oak’s true magic.
Even with side projects like Dungeonesse and EL VY, the main focus of Jen Wasner and Andy Stack is Wye Oak. That’s apparent on album openers “(tuning)” and “The Instrument”. Piano bouncing up and down in pitch leads into the glitchy and bouncy “The Instrument”. Wasner’s voice is a classic one. It’s a voice you will always recognize, like Stevie Nicks or Joni Mitchell. And Andy Stack has gotten to be quite the sonic wizard in the studio. There are looping synths and a manic rhythm that brings to mind more experimental fare that pushes this song into something more cathartic than your typical pop. Title track “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs” almost has a Talking Heads feel to it at first, but the vocals come in and elevate everything into the clouds. Even with all the electronics and beautiful noise, there’s still this element of earthiness here. Wye Oak still retain this organic beauty, whereas a lesser band might get lost in the white noise. “Lifer” captures some of that Civilian vibe. It’s a restrained track that feels immediate, intimate, and close-up. It’s like a conversation with a good friend; eye to eye and breathless in conversation. “It Was Not Natural” is elegant with piano and heady electronics that swirl around. This could be a Haim song, or a St. Vincent song. Lucky for us it’s a Wye Oak song.
Elsewhere, “Symmetry” is grooving electro 80s only the way Wye Oak can do it. There’s elements of synthwave here, but a few notches added thanks to the skillful songwriting of Wasner/Stack. Jenn Wasner does sound a lot like Annie Clark in the chorus, which is not a bad thing. “Over and Over” is a dirge-y track that would sound just as good with jugs, acoustic guitars, and an out-of-tune upright piano. Album closer “I Know It’s Real” is the calm after the storm. It brings to mind later-era Walkmen with the pomp and circumstance of The xx.
Wye Oak seem to keep doing the right thing when it comes to their music. They’ve never forgotten where they began; keeping the spirit of those first couple records intact, while constantly pushing themselves each time out. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs continues that trend of forward motion. It’s a beautiful pop album that if there were any justice in the world would be on constant rotation throughout the FM dial. There is no justice in the world(typically), so that probably won’t happen. But put Wye Oak in your ears anyways.