Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Album: The Knot
Merge, 2009 (out TODAY!)
Rating: ****** (6/10)
It was less than a year ago that I (and many people) first heard Wye Oak, a noise-folk duo from Baltimore whose self-released 2007 album's 2008 re-release on Merge made my "Best of 2008" list. I only heard of them in conjunction with all the hullabaloo they generated at CMJ last year, a well-deserved but short-lived buzz.
This album may follow fairly closely on the heels of If Children, but it's got two years' worth of new material. That time didn't bring a significant departure from the band's earlier work, but it definitely shows more signs of artistic maturity. However, despite being more sophisticated, the album is ultimately a disappointment. Perhaps it wouldn't be if everything we already knew about Wye Oak hadn't let us know they have far more potential than what they've tapped here.
The album starts with a surprisingly bold and promising move, the almost dirge-like "Milk and Honey." It's a ballsy choice as an opening track, indicating a band confident in their identity and their vision. While If Children, like most releases by any band, eases you in to the music, The Knot tosses you in the deep end and you can either turn off your stereo or learn to swim.
Unfortunately, this only makes the shortcomings of the rest of the album worse. It's clear that there is some larger vision for the record, but the execution simply doesn't stand up to that. There are a few really amazing songs, starting with "For Prayer." But there are quite a few duds as well - both "Take It In" and "Tattoo" use scales to form a large part of their irritating, redundant melodies and neither manage to generate momentum.
The rest of the album is a similar jumble of bright ideas and disappointing decisions. "Talking About Money" has a slick beat. "Mary Is Mary" has an especially beautiful and subtle melody, one of the band's finest, and while it's undoubtedly one of the album's high points, the dramatic arrangement ultimately cheapens what could have been more profoundly effecting with more subtlety. "Siamese" has intriguing production and arrangement but subpar songwriting, while "I Want For Nothing" and "Sight, Flight" have adequate melodies but sonically, boast few memorable moments.
Though more mature than If Children, The Knot left me wanting much more. Wye Oak are phenomenally talented, and I wouldn't be surprised if, a little further down the road, we'll see something monumental from them. But the problem with knowing how much they are capable of is knowing how far short they've fallen. And with this album, that's pretty far.