Wye Oak: No Horizon (Merge) - review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, August 5th, 2020  

Wye Oak

No Horizon

Merge

Jul 31, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


After a smattering of singles released going back to late last year and Jenn Wasner’s recently released Flock of Dimes solo EP, Wye Oak emerges with a different approach altogether on the No Horizon EP. Here, Wasner and longtime musical partner Andy Stack team up with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The Chorus have certainly earned their indie cred with the likes of Bon Iver and The National, but have also rubbed shoulders with musical royalty of the likes of Barbara Streisand and Sir Elton John. And they bring a regal flair to Wye Oak’s repertoire as well.  

At No Horizon’s most effective, the leadoff track and single, “AEIOU,” is transcendent both in sonics and in purpose. Using the universality of the standard cadence of calling out vowels, the song commands recognition and inclusiveness: “If you speak my name, use my real name.” The nearly five-minute long track has a build of kaleidoscopic synths, guttural incantations, thick guitar lines, and massed voices, before Wasner’s own clear-as-a-bell vocals pierce the flow well over a minute in. The song is a master class in using disparate elements to create a thing of great beauty and tension as the parts and pieces come together at the end.

Over the course of four songs (which excludes the brief instrumental interlude “(clouds)”), the magic of the opener is chased but not always replicated. The following “No Place” is certainly of the moment with a calling out of forced isolation—fear of getting sick, no kissing, no shaking of hands—but the song is given over to the Brooklyn Youth Chorus with Wasner’s spoken word echoes feeling unnecessarily emphatic. The closing “Sky Witness” is an extended and lovely piece, but the Brooklyn Youth Chorus primarily serves to follow Wasner’s lead, the inverse approach of “No Place.” This leaves the gentle pulse of “Spitting Image” to save the day, which it ably does. The purity of Wasner’s vocal lead and empathetic plea to use “understanding as a weapon” merge seamlessly with the soft voices of the Chorus. As the pace and volume picks up to the close, the power of speaking with one voice becomes imminently clear.

Wye Oak’s addition of a full chorus is not just toyed with here or used as background noise.  When parsed as an element of the songs and expertly arranged as on “AEIOU” and “Spitting Image,” brilliant sparks emerge. And if they say youth is wasted on the young, at least the current members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus get to experience their elders paving a path of songs that long for a deeper understanding of each other. That’s something that all involved in this project can be proud of. (www.wyeoakmusic.com) 

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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