Joey Grihalva

The Sound of Baltimore?

Wye Oak is one of several hot indie bands from Charm City. They play tomorrow at Turner Hall.

By - May 13th, 2014 10:11 am
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Wye OakI’ve only been to Baltimore for less than 24 hours but the city left a lasting impression. It was a whirlwind one nighter during a road trip back in 2008. I remember bar hopping on a wide cobblestone road, prostitutes being pushed on us inside a bar by their hot pimp/bartender, and getting a Milwaukee vibe the next morning. It was a combination of the hangover, the large body of water nearby, and their reputation as a rough city (popularized by the HBO series The Wire), which reminded me of home. Since that trip Baltimore has become a hotbed for indie rock, with the likes of Beach House, Future Islands and Wye Oak claiming Charm City.

Technically speaking, Andy Stack, one half of Wye Oak, now lives in the artist town of Marfa, Texas. And during the recording of their latest record, Shriek, released late last month, Stack was living in Portland, Oregon. Jenn Wasner, Wye Oak’s other half, remained in Baltimore following a grueling 200-city tour in support of Civilian, their acclaimed 2011 release. A couple side projects later, Wasner and Stack began working together again, albeit on different coasts and without Wasner’s signature guitar.

“After we finished touring for our last record there was this crazy amount of baggage that I had associated with the guitar itself. I think when you’re trying to be creative and you’re trying to write, change can be a really powerful tool,” Wasner said in an interview at SXSW earlier this year.

“It wasn’t about trying to make a statement about the guitar or move away from the guitar permanently, it was more that I had to sort of side step that weird emotional baggage the instrument had gathered over the course of several years of playing it pretty much nightly,” Wasner added.

In the absence of the guitar, Wasner reverted to the bass and the piano, the first instrument she ever played. During the Civilian tour she found that her voice often took a beating. Wasner has since devoted more care and attention to her vocal cords, treating her rich alto as another instrument, which has been rewarding for both herself and fans.

The process of recording Shriek allowed Wasner to experiment with recording in her home studio, a self-taught skill that admittedly frightened her at first.

“I think if you’re not scared shitless you’re probably doing something wrong. You should be terrified when you’re making a record. Because you should be doing something that you’ve never done before. You should be pushing yourself and challenging yourself,” said Wasner.

On the other side of the country Stack would build on Wasner’s material and they continued this back and forth until settling on a ten-track departure from their previous work, described on their website as “the culmination of their intent to express the emotional and intuitive self by acting out animalistic exclamations through cathartic release.”

Esoteric language aside, Shriek is a powerful and expansive record. The diversity of sound is larger than anything they’ve attempted. Wasner projects a renewed confidence as her dynamic voice details daydream adventures. Stack adds elegant melodies to his thumping percussion, resulting in their most danceable record to date. Wasner and Stack may no longer reside in the same city, but for the next few months they will inhabit the same stage, and we’re invited to join them tomorrow night at Turner Hall Ballroom.

 Wye Oak – “Glory”

Canadian art rock band BRAIDS will open for Wye Oak. Doors are at 7pm. $12 tickets available at

0 thoughts on “Music: The Sound of Baltimore?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Should be a good band for the Turner Hall space

  2. Anonymous says:

    Interesting review, and thanks for including the video!

  3. Anonymous says:

    All music copyeditors and writers need to remember this: it’s vocal *cords* (as in: strands, cables, etc.). “Chord” refers to multiple notes sounded simultaneously. Grr.

  4. Anonymous says:

    @2fs Thanks. I’ve made the correction.

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