Wye Oak is a band that always seems to be mid-metamorphosis. Over the last 15 years, the duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have gone from neo-folksters to shoegazers to synthpop songwrights to some amalgam of the three. But their creative nomadism has never been out of boredom or any style expiration—they’ve often been chided for dropping their drowning walls of guitar for sleek synth flits—it’s out of necessity.
But regardless of if they’re channeling the sounds of Talk Talk or Björk, the throughline of Wye Oak’s music has always been it’s grounded, personal emotiveness. Wasner’s ability to capture, in writing and sound, the still pageantry of a Wednesday evening disagreement with a significant other keeps them in the upper rungs of a genre that values that exact vulnerability. But with their latest effort, No Horizons EP, they’re once again altering the formula that’s vaulted them here, and that change has never sounded so vital.
Teaming up with the Brooklyn Youth Orchestra, No Horizons is a chilling oeuvre depicting what it’s like, right here, right now, for all of us: songs that trace the misunderstanding, the content overload and the severe detachment many of us are feeling. “I want [the music] to feel universal and I want it to feel like it’s coming for me,” Wasner told Grammy.com on the project. For a band that has made so much ground writing individualism, it feels as if they can no longer pen songs that are so contained to one’s own experience. No Horizons is for everyone.
As the EP begins, with the galloping synths and slide guitar of “AEIOU,” it doesn’t sound like the start of anything. It sounds as if the dust just settled in an environment irreversibly changed. It’s big on polyrhythms, and instead of droning guitars creating their distinctive barriers of sound, it’s the choir, essentially washing Wasner in profundity. The rest of the project’s 20 minute runtime is spent trying to make sense of it all, to gain some footing, to find some dignity in the answers.
It plays out as a joy to hear. The songs are catchy, and when they’re not catchy, they’re pensive. When they’re not pensive, they’re beautiful. Mostly played out on pads, bass and vocals, there are spaces set aside for the six string (The interlude “(Cloud)” sounds like a seismograph written in guitar). “No Place” concludes with a wonderful piano breakdown as the choir picks at what you’ve probably asked yourself everyday in 2020: “What’s happened to us?”
“Sky Witness,” the EP’s final suite, is it’s crux. It waxes and wanes along with a twirling bass and lilting guitar. In the heart of the song, the choir lands on the solution. “If I do not have a witness, I will create one from the sky,” they chant, finally grasping an ounce of power. No Horizons EP is the sound of a band stepping outside of itself and, in the whirlwind of this disarray, making its most powerful record.