Wye Oak were given perhaps their biggest leg-up to date by their American label, Merge Records – possibly most closely associated with Arcade Fire, who this Baltimore duo have been compared to, although they bring little of that band’s arena-rock bombast.
However, it’s the imprint through which they release records in Europe, Affairs of the Heart, that’s the most aptly named. The Knot, the second Wye Oak album after 2008's well-received debut If Children, concerns itself lyrically with relationships – specifically, how people get into them, the routines and responsibilities that arise and, in short, ‘the knot’ that ties us to others.
Their taste for rocking out is brought to the surface here, where previously it had bubbled under. For Prayer lurches, quite unexpectedly, into a sizeable bout of spacey hard-rock riffing, contrasting abrasively with the lightheaded drift of the song otherwise, yet Wye Oak get by on a natural fluidity and inherent songwriting nous. That I Do builds winsome gloom around crashing drums and the lyric, “It’s true / You love me too / But not the way that I do”.
There’s something of the Bella Union-signed Beach House about Wye Oak, not only in the fact they’re a male-female duo from Baltimore, but also in their melding of shoegaze amp-fuzz with cruising, 70s-dipped radio rock. As such, both bands follow in the footsteps of American indie cornerstones like Yo La Tengo, Low and Galaxie 500. The Knot is not a triumph of originality, then, but it seems unlikely it was ever intended to be; moreover, clustered amidst the ten songs are moments which elevate them above mere nth-generation American indie – a splash of pedal steel here, a burst of transcendent drone there, keening, sawing violin on I Want for Nothing.
Wye Oak tread a fairly recognisable path on The Knot, and as such are more of a possible wildcard pick for people who don’t count the bands already mentioned in this review among their absolute favourites. If you do, however, this album – whose actual execution it’s very hard to find fault – may push several of your buttons. --Noel Gardner
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