Plumbiferous Media

The Knot – Wye Oak

Jul 23rd 2009
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The Knot - Wye OakWye Oak
The Knot
Score: 37

Wye Oak, formerly Monarch, released its second album Tuesday under the Merge label. The band, named after its home state of Maryland’s honorary state tree, carries its indie-folk sound cleanly and distinctly, but the album itself is heavily opiate. The hypnotic quality of the sound affects the entire album, forcing what might otherwise have been an above-average album down a great number of points.

Individually, the instrument lines on The Knot are middling at best. While the drums, guitar, or keyboard occasionally dip out of mediocrity for an interesting few seconds, such as in the nicely contrasting section around the two minute mark in “I Want for Nothing,” or the building beginning of “Tattoo,” and the parts are generally well played, they are characterized by simple, highly repetitive sections. After “Tattoo”‘s introduction, the track loses any sort of direction entirely until it abruptly transitions to a second, equally motionless section. It then moves back and forth a few more times until the remaining four minutes have elapsed.

When the instrumentals are considered together, they move from mediocre to somniferous: when the keyboard is not playing a line that barely moves, entirely smoothing out any interesting wrinkles in the guitar or drum lines, it’s playing a line that does not quite fit rhythmically with the rest of the parts, adding quite a bit of mess to the music – especially during the louder sections of the album – and producing a sound that is truly narcotic. This sound pervades the album, but most strongly affects the longer tracks, including “Mary Is Mary.”

Both Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner contribute vocals to The Knot, though this collaboration doesn’t lend much variation to the album, as Stack’s vocals lead clearly on only the first track. After “Milk on Honey,” on which Stack is proficient but not especially interesting, Wasner takes up lead vocal duties for the remainder of The Knot. It’s at this point that the album moves from uninteresting to utterly soporific. In creating a mediocre copy of the voices of every other singer in the genre, Wasner seems to have perfected instead the art of the drone, slipping along her vocal scale while slurring the lyrics themselves, making them largely incomprehensible, and filling The Knot with inoffensive and utterly monotonous noise.

Those lyrics that aren’t obscured by Wasner’s blurred singing are about as exciting as the rest of the music – generic to the point that “cliché” would seem a complement. It’s also fairly clear that these lines don’t stand out because they’re especially good but simply because of where in the music they are placed; the fact that, for example, “You either win it / Or you don’t” is one of very few entirely audible lines on “For Prayer” isn’t entirely attributable to bad taste on the part of Wye Oak, but luck on the part of the line – or bad luck on the part of the listener.

One of a very small set of lyrical successes on The Knot is “Take It In,” a song which, rather fittingly on such a sleep-inducing album, focuses on sleeping. Phrases such as “Half the day awake / Half again asleep,” which display a poetic aptitude utterly absent (or perhaps inaudible) on the rest of the album, distinguish the track as the most interesting on the album (though it certainly still suffers from many of the issues of the album as a whole), leaving us wondering why the rest of The Knot couldn’t at least have met that low standard.

The Knot is not a bad album, at least in technical terms. Stack and Wasner seem to know what they’re doing on at least a fundamental level. Instead, the main problem with The Knot is a complete lack of energy throughout the album. Even the most overly loud sections of “For Prayer” can’t drag the album out of its tranquil mood, to the point where it’s hard to distinguish parts of the album apart, except, perhaps, by the level of sleep they induce. If Wye Oak’s goal was the creation of an effective sleep aid, this would be a success, but as an album it’s intensely boring, and that’s the only intensity that The Knot even approaches.

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