“Tween” is both a misleading and accurate name for Wye Oak’s latest album. On one hand, the word is slang for juvenile and all its relatives: Snapchat. Pimples. Temporary tatoos. Uggs. 5 Seconds of Summer. uhhh The Fault in Our Stars? Drake and Josh? Serioulsy who tf knows 😭😭😭😇👻🐣
The “Tween” of Wye Oak is nowhere close to any of those things. It’s laser focused and heavy, attacked with the confident, bold strokes of an adult band that’s spent almost ten years together. Instead, the “tween-ness” of the album comes from its many gray areas and metamorphoses. The best point in any Wye Oak song is a tweener moment: when the guitars start to roar and the groove kicks in, or when everything falls away. The band is masterful at withholding information and emotion. The songs are pleasant, until suddenly, they’re furiously and achingly great.
The best songs on “Tween” hit these tweener moments several times, like a camera sliding in and out of focus. “Too Right” takes three minutes to settle in: it runs through bouts of clarity and murkiness, as a clearly picked guitar line is obscured by a haze of feedback. It’s vaguely metal, vaguely indie, vaguely blues, until its epic, churning outro section. Even then, the band is restless: the groove hits with full force, then recedes, then ramps up again in a foreboding wash of reverse cymbals, rising and falling like waves crashing on the beach.
“On Luxury” likewise thrives on ambiguity. It starts with a defined pulse but not a groove: no snare drum, no clearly delineated downbeat, just a intricate wandering vocal line and an unfixed synth backdrop that seems to change color. Vocalist Jenn Wasner inches forward along the tightrope, wavering, dipping and dodging, until the whip of a single snare drum. Like the pop at the beginning of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” or at the end of Wye Oak’s own sublime “Holy Holy,” the lone snare hit completely changes the landscape of the song, like the gratifying rush of a rainstorm after a drought.
Of course, transitions are worthless if the before-and-after states aren’t themselves fascinating. And unlike much of EDM, the solid states of Wye Oak are teeming with intricacy and complexity. The two-faced “Better (For Esther)” starts as a gentle country hop and then explodes with throbbing synthesizer, locking into a groove that sounds like the Doors playing over James Murphy noodling. Overall, the guitar work and harmonies are impeccable–especially on the shoegazey “No Dreaming.”
Wye Oak has been slowly, patiently making the case that they’re one of America’s greatest rock bands. And after years of buildup, this album hit me like that snare drum. There are plenty of more immediate songs, but there’s little more gratifying than the fulfillment of a quiet, patient long con.