- Record Label
- Merge Records
About this item
Ten years after its release, Wye Oak’s Civilian remains a raw, sinewy punch of a record bleak and intense and lonely and self-assured all at once. The album unravels with the sort of self questioning and uncertainty that come with youth, and its specific confidence in unflinchingly probing all of those emotions, feeling them to their deepest extent even when it’s tearing you apart at the seams. When Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner released Civilian, it marked both the ascension and death of Wye Oak, or at least a version of it. Now, a decade later, Civilian + Cut All the Wires: 2009–2011 delves back into that pivotal record and adds a lost album of unreleased tracks and demos to Civilian’s universe.
Wye Oak has always existed, and likely always will, at an intersection, as a paradox. Gentle and jagged, fierce and vulnerable—even the clinical sheen of the word “civilian” feels at odds with a record whose content is almost violently human. As Wasner wrote in a short note that accompanied promotional mailings of the record to press in 2011: “These are songs about aloneness (the positive kind), loneliness (the horrible kind), moving on, and letting go (of people, places, and things).”
Civilian was beloved upon release, complete with late-night TV appearances, sold-out concerts, and glowing reviews; it was the A.V. Club’s favorite album of 2011. With that acclaim came inevitable burnout, thanks in part to Wye Oak’s workhorse mentality, the 200+ shows they performed on the back of the album’s release, and a persistently misogynistic narrative about Wasner’s guitar skills. But rather than recoil, the band decided to rethink: Civilian set the duo on a decade-long course of innovation. On Shriek, the follow-up to Civilian, they completely did away with guitars. And now, in 2021, Wye Oak seem to have fully ditched the album format.
From a steady stream of standalone singles to 2020’s No Horizon, their EP collaboration with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Wasner and Stack are fully committed to reinventing their sound over and over again. Devoting nearly 2,000 words to its 10th anniversary earlier this year, Stereogum described Civilian as “an album of hellos and goodbyes at the same time, introducing us to everything Wye Oak could be, before setting the stage for the other Wye Oaks we’d soon get to know, and the all the others we’ve still yet to meet.”
Cut All the Wires: 2009–2011, a 12-song collection of rare and unreleased tracks and demos culled from the Wye Oak archives, is an extension of the bruised and aching Civilian. Sonic paradoxes abound: the mellow “Sinking Ship” is preceded by the wall-of-sound grunginess that roars through “Half a Double Man.” A pared-down acoustic Daytrotter live session of “Two Small Deaths” dovetails into the jangling “Holy Holy” demo. The closing lyrics over the frenetic, screeching feedback of “Electricity” lend the anniversary release its title.
As Wasner sees it now, these songs might as well have been written by a different person. In fact, she and Stack had forgotten about most of the material on Cut All the Wires until happened upon while digging through old hard drives. The collection adds another layer of separation, a lost album unexpectedly discovered and the feeling of meeting oneself all over again. When Wasner wrote these songs, she was deep in the throes of heartbreak and suffering, her songwriting cutting through a haze of self-doubt and internalized misogyny in musical spaces. On the recordings, you can hear the strain in her voice (aiming to sound more androgynous, she notes, something that would go on to ultimately hurt her vocal cords). It lends a raw, emotive quality to these songs, quaking with trepidation and intensity. It feels painful, and it feels real.
Civilian LP 1
Two Small Deaths
Hot As Day
We Were Wealth
Cut All The Wires LP 2
Half A Double Man
Two Small Deaths (Daytrotter Session)
Holy Holy (Demo)
Black Is The Color