Wye Oak


Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner tells us that she and her fellow American bandmates started their day in London, completing a radio session at a BBC studio for Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music show. Departing for Manchester in the van at around 2pm, for reasons of Bank Holiday traffic it was only by the skin of their teeth that they actually made it to the Deaf Institute in time for tonight’s show.

Not to get too political on election results day, but a tour on another continent should be a cultural experience to be enjoyed and not endured. So maybe if the railways went back into public ownership with sensible ticket prices and more frequent services, a band like Wye Oak, transporting lots of equipment, would have clearer roads and be able to make the six-hour journey in about half of that and have a much better day.

A few shouts from the near-capacity crowd tell Wasner that we’re glad they did make it. Admittedly, I myself had never heard of this particular artist until a few days ago, but a band being part of the Merge Records roster along with all-time faves The Mountain Goats, as well as Neutral Milk Hotel, Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields, Lambchop, M. Ward et al constitutes as much recommendation as I need.

It wouldn’t be too inaccurate to describe Wye Oak as sonically similar to best mates and fellow Baltimore band Future Islands. The former is not quite so synth-heavy and perhaps the rhythms tend to be less danceable, but nonetheless electronics feature prominently on records like the acclaimed new one The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs and in the live show. Traditionally a duo, multi-instrumentalists Wasner and Andy Stack are joined on this tour by a bass player.

With Wasner playing either guitar, keys or bass on each song, instrumentally there is plenty going on, and occasionally Stack, with his technical and simultaneous drums-keyboards skills, comes across as a bit of a math-rock god, but the most impressive instrument of all is Wasner’s voice. Expressive and lovely and a little smoky around the edges, it strikes me as somehow ideally suited to blend with electronica, adding the human to the machine. Inevitably, Wasner’s amplified singing voice easily drowns out those of a few rude, talkative people by the bar, but they are still a distraction at times.

Lyrically, Wasner is thoughtful and likes to leave much open to interpretation. Recent themes seem to be musings about relatively new additions to the lives of our species like air travel, 24/7 news, internet video, and social media, as well as their effect on our collective peace of mind. The unsettling Louder title track, played last tonight (with no encore because Wasner doesn’t believe in planning them), leaves me wondering what the unspecified “it” is and whether it is running towards me or away. Should I be scared? The answers I seek as a listener just come up against more questions, but it’s all intriguing stuff that makes delving deeper into the music an attractive proposition.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.