Album Reviews

Wye Oak – Tween


It’s been two years since the release of the critically acclaimed Shriek and the members of Baltimore’s Wye Oak have been quietly busy – Andy Stack has been the touring drummer for EL VY and Jenn Wasner has been touring her solo project, Flock of Dimes. So, the surprise release of Tween – alongside the statement that this is a collection of songs written and subsequently scrapped between the 2011 release Civilian and the aforementioned Shriek ­– makes this album a treat but one that is hard to place in the Wye Oak catalogue. Is it an album? A collection of B-sides? Or some sort of placeholder to pique interest before their North American tour? It is too well-formed and developed to be treated as a collection of unreleased tracks but nor does it feel like the next step in a band’s progression.

Wye Oak’s Shriek was one of these steps, abandoning the guitar-driven sound of Civilian in favour of a more synth-centric album. And although well-received this step away from their original sound did not build more enthusiasm around the duo. Tween feels in a way like the release that bridges the gap between the two albums with opener ‘Out Of Nowhere’ building from the sound of something being tuned in.

There is no further time wasted with track two ‘If You Should See’ kicking right into the main hook of the song. The repeated electronic beat that comes after the chorus sounds like morse code being tapped out. The track quietens into its end as though the message is lost in the ether.

‘Better (For Esther)’ opens with a Civilian-esque stillness to it. Everything is subdued with just the guitar and vocals coming to the forefront until near the two-minute mark when the guitar kicks everything up a gear. The warbly guitars here are reminiscent of St. Vincent whilst the restrained vocals evoke Beach House’s Victoria Legrand.

Lead single (and album closer), ‘Watching the Waiting’, is the most immediate offering here and with Wasner’s vocals at the forefront of the song is one of the poppier songs on Tween. Everything sounds much tighter here until the mid-point when the motif of interference returns at the 2 minute mark with an electronic screech briefly pops up to break the song into two with Wasner’s voice returning to proclaim “there is nowhere I need to go/And there is nothing left to do” to end the album. Although lyrically this feels like an apt place to end, the song doesn’t feel like an album closer and risks leaving the listener wanting a little more. But maybe that’s the point of an album that has been described by the band as “a step sideways” as opposed to a step forwards.

Tween may not be the next step in Wye Oak’s sound and is unlikely to win any new fans, but it showcases how they’ve progressed, fits perfectly amongst their back catalogue and as the title suggests it is an in-between things and a fumbling onto something new. It’ll be interesting to see where they take us next. James Trotter