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Wye Oak
If Children Alex Denney , October 30th, 2008 12:40

Wye Oak - If Children

Wye Oak is Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, a Baltimore, Maryland duo who take their name from the honorary state tree of the same name. At around 460 years old, it was the largest white oak in the US before its untimely destruction in a thunderstorm in 2002. Perhaps the arboreal moniker has to do with loss; a trope for the removal of objects or feelings once felt to be indestructible - it would certainly make sense in context of their debut If Children‘s wounded, nostalgic rumination on the egocentric pleasures of childhood, and the contrasting burden of responsibility which adulthood brings with it.

Musically the album’s superlative mix of folk and shoegaze influences is judiciously paired with bouts of shimmering noise to throw the curtain open on the song arrangements rather than spoil the view. ’Warning’ has the same precarious, recently-airborne quality that much of Daydream Nation had and ‘Archaic Smile’ is a smouldering beauty that recalls Yo La Tengo at their most gracefully cinematic, all gently scrubbed textures and delicate drums that suggest expanse through their occasional silences. ‘Family Glue’ does dark, driving folk rock culminating in a hair-raising crescendo of violins and works as a great showcase for Wassner’s languid vocal inflections which bring Kim Deal immediately to mind.

If there’s any charge you can level at the band it’s that they sometimes sit too squarely in a picturesque middle ground where everything sounds great but nothing is pursued to morbid or even healthy extremes, like a stylish living room that’s a bit too impeccably reticent about its proprietors’ tastes. To this end ‘Regret’ essays the lyrical guitar picking style of Elliott Smith but misses the bite, and and ‘A Lawn To Mow’ is a workaday blues that hardly merits inclusion. But if Wye Oak are a little more stoically indie a proposition than some of the acts that helped to inspire them, it hardly seems to matter in the context of some of the most straightforwardly affecting music you‘ll hear all the live long year. Gorgeous, dreamy stuff.