Friday, June 10, 2016

Listen/Watch: Wye Oak - "Watching the Waiting"

If there's one thing I've learned following Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, her projects like Flock of Dimes and Dungeonesse revealed a reverence of pop music that wasn't necessarily as evident in Wye Oak's earlier works. That sort of changed with their previous record Shriek though when Wasner and drummer Andy Stack gave into their impulses and crafted a collection of synth-laden tunes that were undeniably pop-fueled. And so here we are with Wye Oak, taking a stab at what's becoming an increasing trend in the pop sphere: the surprise album. It's a surprise in the true sense of the world with very little hints of new music coming besides the duo booking a new tour.

"Watching the Waiting" is just a taste of their latest effort Tween and is a beguiling step for the band. After going increasingly electronic with Shriek, "Watching the Waiting" populates the sort of folky indie rock the band purveyed as recently as Civilian. And yet, it's by no means a step back for the band or even a dramatic reinvention. "Watching the Waiting" sits comfortably at a sort of center of all the sounds Wye Oak has previously explored while pushing themselves forward through their mix of them. After forgoing guitars completely on Shriek, Wasner brings them back here and are paired with the more electronic elements. Both are offered up with the lightest of touches and presented as more secondary to Wasner's vocals. Which is pretty fair considering Wasner's covering a considering amount of narrative ground here. "I could not have seen myself here in a place I've been before/Seeing everything all as if I can feel enough" Wasner sings and it's surprising how much it parallels the duo's creative journey. But Wasner narrows the lyrics towards describing a sort of out-of-body experience of one's own memories. It's not uncommon to revisit past decisions and mistakes, and Wasner touches on that universality stunningly.

While Wasner offers up a trip down memory lane that borders on the surreal, the video, directed by Michael Patrick O'Leary and Ashley North Compton, explores it completely. Wasner is turned both active participant and observer while Stack commits to the dreaminess of it all and a sort of specter of memory keeps Wasner engaged. It's beautifully shot and definitely feels like a relevant companion tot the song; a helpful tool for digesting "Watching the Waiting" in all its dreamy complexity.

And yet, "Watching the Waiting" is surprisingly easy to digest, Wasner's lyrics doing most of the heavy lifting while the song sits comfortably between universal pop gem and indie rock experimentalism. It's a wonderful way to welcome back the band and one that's a little less of a shock to the system after Shriek and does an exceptional job piquing curiosity for the rest of the record. Thankfully Wye Oak have taken care of that and intrigued listeners can immediately sate that curiosity by downloading and listening to Tween.

Wye Oak's new not-quite-an-album Tween is available digitally now with physical editions slated for release August 5th on Merge Records. You can however purchase one of their 25 limited edition test pressings of Tween here.

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