Release Date: Aug 5, 2016
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
Wye Oak are somehow best known for being overlooked, just like a number of their Baltimore peers (Beach House, Lower Dens, Future Islands) once were. A breakthrough on the order of “Zebra,” “To Die in L.A.,” or “Seasons (Waiting on You)”—style has naggingly eluded the duo, but they aren’t really chasing after one anyway. Over the past decade, they’ve accumulated considerable goodwill with four cohesive and consistent records of indie rock repellent to hyperbole.
Between the time of their rock-solid 2011 indie rock album Civilian and their breakthrough Shriek, which set aside their guitar-heavy sound in favor of synths and modern R&B beats, Wye Oak recorded a lot of songs that didn't find a home. Arriving in 2016, Tween gathers up these side trips and diversions and gives them a home. The eight songs find Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack experimenting with different sounds, styles, and approaches, yet it all fits together to become one of their more impressive releases.
The latest release from Wye Oak, the project of Baltimore duo Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, is a brief collection of songs that did not make it onto 2011's Civilian or 2014's Shriek. Hence the clever title, Tween, referring to the fact that these songs exist somewhere in between these more official releases. .
Wye Oak are a band that never seem to reveal too much. Despite the angelic vocals of Jenn Wasner, their music and its atmosphere do most of the talking. The Baltimore-bred duo of Andy Stack (drums, keyboards, vocals) and Wasner (vocals, guitar, bass) allow moody keyboards, slashing guitar riffs and tumbling drum fills to really paint the picture. Their last full-length album, Shriek, was released two years ago, and if I’m to correctly decipher a recent cryptic press release, Tween is more of a stopgap than a “proper” album.
Tween isn’t technically Wye Oak’s fifth studio record. The music on the seven-song mini-album dates from the years between 2011’s Civilian and 2014’s Shriek, a period when the duo evolved from a biting indie-rock outfit into a kaleidoscopic synthpop act. Band members Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack even characterize the songs as “not emblematic of a step forward, but a step sideways in time.” These castoffs reflect enthralling detours, however—a glimpse into the paths Wye Oak might have taken, a secret history of sorts discovered and brought to light.
Surprise-dropped digitally in June with a physical release slated for August 5, Tween marks a quizzical return for Wye Oak, the Baltimore duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, neither of whom lives in Baltimore any more. (Stack lives in Marfa, Texas; Wasner in Durham, North Carolina.) "Quizzical" because they call the 35-minute, eight-song collection a non-album, a step sideways rather than backward or forward in time. And also because it documents the transitory period between the duo's 2011 breakthrough guitar-heavy third album, Civilian, and their guitarless 2014 electro-pop reinvention, Shriek.