Amidst the wave of alt-country/folk, Baltimore’s Wye Oak got notice last year, at least some of which was due to heavy promotion by their label, ‘major’ indie imprint Merge Records (Arcade Fire, Spoon, M. Ward). The debut from Andy Stack & Jenn Wasner, If Children (QRO review), showed promise, but also showed some of the stripped-down alt-country/folk that has become so ubiquitous these days. Thankfully, the duo has grown in their follow-up, The Knot, marrying their original sound to greater instrumentation.
After the slow, sad, atmos-sway opener “Milk and Honey”, it seems like The Knot is just going to follow in the same bare footsteps of Children on that & the following “For Prayer”, but then there are bigger rock moments mixed in to the latter. That mixture of soft/sad and loud, combined with Wagner particularly good vocals, heartfelt without being overwrought (reminiscent of Elizabeth Powell – QRO interview – of Land of Talk – QRO spotlight on), lifts The Knot from its predecessor. This is especially true in the record’s first half, with the duo’s high alt-country leavened with alt-garage/road guitars on “Take It In”, interesting back effects on “Siamese” (itself reminiscent of another female alt-troubadour, Annie Clark – QRO interview – of St. Vincent – QRO spotlight on), and full-out fuzzy alt-rock on “Talking About Money”.
The backside of The Knot does slip somewhat, partially because the band retreats from their growth, and partially because the songs start to tend to sound the same (the exception being the big, choral, and bright “Tattoo”). Wye Oak might still struggle a bit to stand out from all their alt-country/folk peers (though Merge will help with that…), but they’re definitely growing in the right direction.