Wye Oak - If Children (mp3)
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Wye Oak - If Children (mp3)
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Wye Oak - If Children
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There's historical poetry-- and plain shoe-fitting sense-- to Merge's rerelease of Wye Oak's 2007 debut, If Children. The band, a male-female duo from Baltimore, both in their early 20s, is like a Merge incarnate birthed 10 years late: mixed-sex; Mid-Atlantic; pretty without sounding porcelain. Their sound-- earnest folk-influenced indie rock with touches of noise and dream-pop-- is so second-nature that nobody realizes it's actually endangered. In 1995, If Children would've been vernacular, slotting on modern-rock radio next to Belly or sellable Dinosaur Jr.; in 2008, it flashes like lost slang.
That's not to say If Children earns stripes from nostalgia. It doesn't. But it is refreshing that, in an era where the most promising indie rock bands operate through self-consciousness, flair, and fashion (LCD Soundsystem; modern Merge cash cows Spoon and Arcade Fire) or the equally hip pretense of eschewing those things (Animal Collective), Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack remove themselves from the discourse entirely. They aren't fashionable or sexy, but don't wear humility for a pity vote; they're earnest without expecting a pat on the back for it.
If Children blends together in concept, but displays a band that knows how to vary a theme just enough to keep momentum: the restrained, porch-lit fingerpicking of "Please Concrete" gives way to cosmopolitan poses of free-jazzy squall; later, gliding Asian-sounding pentatonic runs on a piano during "Keeping Company" transition to the country-ish "A Lawn to Mow". Vocals trade between Wasner and Stack; her voice bears more sweetness, but the light variety is a palette cleanser. Their total defiance of novelty is almost minimalistic; it's a reminder that someone who understands food can make a good dish with three or four ingredients.
Wye Oak isn't gripping song after song-- too uncouth, too flashy-- but moments on If Children are superlative. "Warning" is a collision of momentums, the inherent slowness of guitar atmosphere with drums sputtering out from a garage-rock song. The catch is that Wasner and Stack actually sound comfortable in both modes; their fuzz convincingly dizzy, their inertia reckless. A humble rollercoaster. I might even prefer the grandeur of "I Don't Feel Young", which foams to actual noise without losing any sweetness; the Byrds without acid or English shoegaze without the suggestion of French kissing.
At the heart of both songs is bulletproof innocence. But Wye Oak aren't separatists or daydreamers; they're absolutely uncute. When Wasner sings "I don't feel young, I don't feel scared" she sounds saucer-eyed and terrified; when Stack joins her at the song's climax on the lines "If you feel young and feel ready/ Or if you feel old...You know your secret's safe with me," their appeal to inclusion is wise enough to heed and comforting enough to cry into; when, on "Warning", she confides, "The only hell I'll ever know is when you may go and I may not go," she doesn't flinch. It's not an appeal to be pet, it's a glass of water in the face, honesty so undramatized it's hard to imagine, at the moment, another band so achingly stupid, so brave at heart.
— Mike Powell, April 25, 2008
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