EP: Wye Oak – No Horizon review

by Chris Hatch

How do you tally the vast, immense size of the universe with the relatively tiny speck of time and space that your life will take up? How do you search for answers to ideas and concepts that have been ruminated over for millennia while still going to your day job, while still paying bills, while still remembering to buy milk? If technology has allowed society to be closer, why do we feel so anxious… so alone? How do you take all these heady, spacious, intangible ideas and somehow bundle them up, pull them back down to earth, and try to make sense of them without ridding them of their magic and mystery? These are the kind of thoughts that feel like they are being explored on Wye Oak’s dazzlingly unique EP, No Horizon – a record that sees Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack adopt the kind of ‘evolve or die’ attitude that has resulted in one of their most ambitious, strangest, and beautiful records.

From the startlingly brilliant opening track, AEIOU, there’s an intense sense that Wye Oak are spanning that space between the physical world and an ethereal, semi-spirituality. Earthy drums, and rich, rumbling guitars mingle with blipping, pulsing synths and breathy, jittery, cut-up samples. In its opening bars, there’s a simplicity to the refrain that The Brooklyn Youth Choir sing – the repetition of ‘A, E, I, O, U’ boils language down to its core elements; its 5/4 time signature meaning that it spirals and wraps around itself – but by the time the track builds to its crescendo, it has become a mantra – a religious chant of childlike wonder that accompanies Wasner as she cries out searchingly to the beyond.

The Brooklyn Youth Choir are a crucial facet of the record – a testament to the willingness of Stack and Wasner to evolve, collaborate, and experiment. Uncomfortable with the thought of becoming stagnant, Wye Oak’s raison d’etre is to constantly push their boundaries and re-align their parameters, not just on this record, but across their output as a whole – and while many bands will endeavour to burst free from the confines of predictability, there’s a knack to doing so without becoming indulgent and aloof; Wye Oak have managed to pull off the feat of exploring abstract themes both musically and lyrically whilst still being accessible – it’s as though they have have unlocked the door, welcomed you in, but allowed you to find your own way around.

While an album like Ruth Garbus’ Kleinmeister could at times feel incomprehensibly impenetrable, the lyrics on Wye Oak’s EP feel just within reach, as if those inarticulable concepts have been pulled down from the ether and tethered to the ground – they still float away up there, but you can tug on the line and pull them that little bit closer. Lines dance around between the direct and the oblique – ‘One thought as one red apple’ ponders Wasner in a rich, vivid lyric that seems so simple and straightforward, but that sets off a string of abstract thinking. And in many ways, it’s that juxtaposition of the simple and the complicated that makes No Horizon work so wonderfully – the wide-eyed vibrancy of The Brooklyn Youth Choir bristles against Wasner’s contemplative pleas, organic guitars play against processed synth pads, and huge ideas are explored in simple, poetic ways.

It’s the job of a writer to try and convey the sense and sound of a record: to tell you how the production feels, what the lyrics mean, what label the band are on… but No Horizon feels like something that is indescribable because in between its intriguingly experimental production, its sparkling songwriting, and its philosophical explorations, there are moments that eclipse words, that fill the void where emotions and feelings usually sit, and that transcend in a way that only music can do.

Secret Meeting score: 85

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