Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner spent much of the first Wye Oak record, If Children, submerging their songs of youthful love and dread in a distortion haze, but the band's new record, The Knot, starts with a bell. From the first clarion-clear note, Wye Oak's collective vision is sharpened on The Knot, a set of songs that sway, stretch, and scream while always reaching outward for personal connection.
As ever, Stack's production layers his own multi-instrumental arrangements over Wasner's woozy compositions, but musically, too, things sound more precise. There is perhaps less squalling feedback than before, but lingering violin and pedal steel bring out the droning Americana that has always informed Wye Oak's sound. If Children may not have had anything quite as dark and harrowing as "Mary Is Mary," The Knot's nearly eight-minute centerpiece, but the band has rarely been so blissfully shimmering as on "I Want for Nothing" or "Talking About Money," in which a single-note melodica pattern is willed into a powerful, emotive hook. Throughout The Knot, Wasner's lyrics explore the metaphorical possibilities of the album's title, assessing the ways (voluntary and otherwise) that our ties to other people define our experiences. The Knot encompasses romantic possibility as well as unromantic obligation.
Wye Oak started as two friends recording songwriting demos together, but their basement project has since evolved to include tours of America and Europe and a home on legendary label Merge Records. The Knot reflects that burgeoning confidence and comfort while maintaining the intimacy and emotional directness that are the band's hallmarks. Only good things can come of a band this curious, honest, and oblivious to current trends. Pay attention.