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Civilian

4.6 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Audio CD, March 8, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack return with their third album, Civilian. Civilian is a kind of 21st-century folk music, imbued with dense shoegaze guitars, nearly melodic rhythms, and impeccable splashes of electronic color. Without leaning on conventional structure, the songs beguile with fascinating chords and melodies, Jenn's voice and riveting lyrics, mesmerizing rhythms, and an intoxicating aural landscape. Jenn sums up the meaning of the album saying, "this collection of songs is called Civilian because I believe everyone wants to be normal, but no one truly is."
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 8, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Merge Records
  • ASIN: B004I65E4O
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,081 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: MP3 Music Verified Purchase
With Civilian, Wye Oak has mastered the art of creating songs that swell and progress to peaks of ultimate complexity. Many of the tracks begin with the spotlight placed squarely on Jenn's smooth, subtle, yet powerfully sultry vocals, only to have the mood tempered by distorted guitar riffs and resonating percussion. Although the general feel of the music is one of melancholy, the mesmerizing lyrics and diaphonous undertones keep the album from becoming too dark and burdensome. Heavy topics are approached with a sort of cautious intensity that carefully toes the line between drawing listeners in and pushing them over the edge.

The group has been tossed into the indie/lo-fi category--one that is overflowing with aesthetically similar musicians who ultimately have little in common, aside from their affinity for creating probing and consequential music. In a genre where anything goes, Wye Oak has responded by developing an entirely novel offering--from the introductory track's opening note to the album's final fade, there is nothing contrived or derivative to be found. Comparisons can be drawn to several of the band's contemporaries, from Rogue Wave to Pavement, but fans expecting a rehashed version of such artists' respective albums are in for an unanticipated treat.

Because Civilian is much more polished and produced than it's predecessors, it is more accessible. That being said, the band has stayed their direction, and their material has maintained the nuances and intricacies that brought them to the attention of so many discerning listeners. This album is a rarity, in that it will delight loyal fans and newcomers alike. The lyrical genius, gorgeous vocals, and singular instrumental arrangements make Civilian more than an experience of passive listening, but, as alluded to on the album's cover art, one more akin to musical immersion.
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I get why folks like Wye Oak but what I cannot figure is why everyone seems to love "Civilians." It is a good, but not great, recording. Jenn Wasner, who sounds quite a bit like Sonya Kitchell (which is meant as a compliment), shines on some songs but seems lost in the mix on others. Andy Stack, when restrained just a bit, handles the multi-instrumentalist role with aplomb, but I think things can quickly become too strident, throwing some songs, (e.g., Dogs Eyes, Wealth) off balance. Put another way, fewer ideas and directions would be better in many places. Once the melody meanders too far, it just is not that pleasant. And the track Plains meanders in a different way, sort of an aimless ramble that never gets anywhere.

That said, when Wye Oak nails a song, such as the title track, this duo shows its true strength and potential. This is one of those recordings I like well enough and I think it is worth a listen, though it ultimately does not completely satisfy as a recording that qualifies for a ringing endorsement.
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Format: Audio CD
(Do bands still have breakthroughs in today's incompetent music industry?) With their third album the Baltimore duo have found a sound that is not derivative, but genuinely haunting. While it is easy enough to categorize just about any group (shoegazing in this case?), it would not only callously overlook what is truly an original voice, something fairly rare these jaded later days of contemporary/alternative, but more importantly fail to appreciate the genuinely affecting experience of wrapping oneself into the sublime emotion offered here. Holy Holy, Doubt and the title track are each strong enough to gain airplay, so I hope that somehow this disc creates enough buzz to lend support to young artists who have discovered a connection to what deserves to be a decent run.
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To my ears, it took Wye Oak three albums to hit their full stride. The first two albums had incredible moments, but would get a little drifty in stretches. This release is involving throughout and consistently surprises the listener with interesting and unusual sounds brought into the mix. Their sound has continue to evolve and develop from album to album to achieve greater depth in their music. When I think of some of my favorite bands who have released new albums this year, none have truly impressed me and some have downright disappointed. Arcade Fire's The Suburbs was alright, but I'm not inclined to play it as I have with their previous work. The Arctic Monkeys and The Kills released truly trite, wholly forgettable recordings. And The Strokes new album was listenable, even enjoyable, but ultimately a disappointing effort after so many years outside the studio. By contrast, Civilian will remain in my rotation for sometime to come.
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Format: Vinyl Verified Purchase
In case you were wondering: this album does come with a download code for the full album. I think it's the case that most (but not all?) new records these days come with codes to download the album digitally. Civilian comes with a code that lets you download the album up to 3 times from the Merge Records website. It's very easy to download, and comes in 320 kbps mp3s with no DRM.
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I will borrow a line from TimothyArcher: "The beautiful melodies are contrasted with noisy distortion in just the right amount." Civilian is an exercise in dissonance and resolution. Very difficult to pull off, but Wye Oak has all the skills necessary to make it work. And it works beautifully. Jennifer leads with a strong melody, gets crazy on the guitar, then returns to the melody. If it wasn't for the strong melodies these compositions would simply be a noisy disaster. Several compositions end abruptly without resolution often leaving the listener hanging. Although a bit off putting, it does add variety to the collection.

And the voice of Jennifer also holds the key to the success of Civilian. Seductive yes, alluring yes, provocative yes. I watched several videos of Wye Oak to try and figure out why this voice is so enticing. Listeners may disagree, but I believe that Jennifer's vocal delivery is very similar to that of a pouting child.
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