The song that opens up “The Louder I Call, The Faster it Runs” is “(tuning),” which in its ever-brief 36 seconds feels like Wye Oak is winding up their sound into a brand new timbre. In many ways, that is exactly what they’re doing on this album, a record that finds Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack bringing sonic experiments into the fold, knitting together vibrant synthetic textures with wide waves of guitar and pulsing instrumentation.
I was a big fan of Wye Oak’s 2016 release “Tween,” especially songs like “Watching the Waiting,” which summoned up the driving, rhythmic atmosphere of the best of 80s music with the help of Jenn Wasner’s heavenly vocals. The band’s strength lies heavily in the sense of their own sound, which isn’t quite easily labeled but nevertheless finds a cohesive way of telling its own unique story on “The Louder I Call, The Faster it Runs.”
On this album we see the sound of “Tween” condensed into an even more cohesive package. The tight instrumentation is impeccably thought out and mixed elegantly, which is especially apparent on the album’s title track, which eases us in with arpeggiated synths and crisp drums. The pattern-based architecture of the track mirrors the philosophical questioning of the song, which leans itself heavily on the human tendency to find meaning in chaos, and the paradoxes that make it hard for humans to find any peace with their lives: “I search for patterns, sense that isn’t there / You can have everything, and still you have nothing / So I take them all apart, then I put them back / Sometimes it takes a long, long, long time.”
“Lifer” is rhythmically satisfying, building its melody off the shuffle of the busy drum track, an effect that Wasner achieves effortlessly. “Did you say that I was the lifer? / Did you say that life could be better?” she sings, bouncing along with restrained instrumentation. On an album that finds Wye Oak going all in on their sound, it seems appropriate that a track like “Lifer” would be about that very process, a kind of self-realization that in anything (life, art, relationships), you have always been one foot in, one foot out, and that there is a distinct pain associated with this inability to really commit to anything in life.
I like “Symmetry” for similar reasons. It starts out with a syncopated rhythm line, and in many subtle ways, manages to build upon that rhythm with each element that comes in, but never become repetitive in the process. This sort of layering process has always fascinated me as a music listener, especially when an artist can change so much about the song without the listener really perceiving any major changes. Yet by the song’s end, it has morphed, ever subtly, into a whole new, bombastic animal.
There are many good songs here, which tend, as a whole, to drown out the so-so tracks. The orchestral interlude that is “My Signal;” The slightly detuned underbelly of “You of All People,” which has a melodic core that glides easily over its glassy surface; Also, the instant accessibility of “Join” and the programmed percussion that makes it come alive.
“The Louder I Call, The Faster it Runs” is a put together statement from a very put together band. As with bands and people, the better sense you get of your own identity, the more you can speak from that core of being, and create things that are more honest, and, as a result, more in touch with whatever strange force motivates us to make art. Wye Oak, based on this evidence, seems to be well on their way.