[SELF-HELP INDIE ROCK] It's often said that the best music comes in the wake of personal tragedy. The history of gut-wrenching breakup albums—from Bob Dylan's scathing Blood on the Tracks to Blur's noisy, disjointed 13—has been documented in countless best-of lists, but there's also a different kind of transition record that deals with letting go more than moving on. For Jenn Wasner, Wye Oak's singer and guitarist, it took a self-imposed exile to find the strength to finish Civilian, an album centered on death, romantic discomfort and personal growth.
"I wrote Civilian in my room, during a time when I pretty much holed up and didn't do anything or see anyone," Wasner admits. "The first song I finished was the title track, and that song was kind of the breaking point. This record represents a year of my life when I learned to be less dependent on others and more self-sufficient for my own happiness."
If that sounds like a total downer, then you're not familiar with Wye Oak. Since the band's genesis in Baltimore, Md., in 2006, Wasner and Andy Stack (drummer, keyboardist and arranger) have made the dreary sound exuberant, with a stripped-down aesthetic that emphasizes Wasner's husky, alluring voice, ferocious blasts of shoegaze rock guitar, and full arrangements that could come from a band twice its size. Civilian is easily the band's most confident record: Instead of relying on the sheer joy of a shift from a quiet verse to a super-loud chorus, these songs have room to breathe and grow, from the buoyant, poppy "The Altar" to the lumbering early Modest Mouse stomp of "Dogs Eyes."
Wasner credits Civilian's intricate sound to finally learning how to delegate responsibility. For the first time the band brought in an outside mixer (John Congleton, who's worked with St. Vincent) and, while the record was finished quickly, it's also a relief to have her internal demons out in the open.
"I made a lot of really intense changes in my life during a short period of time, but getting past that I feel like I'm happier than I've ever been," she says. "And this record is a documentation of that struggle."
SEE IT: Wye Oak plays Tuesday, March 29, at Mississippi Studios with Callers and Aan. 9 pm. $10. 21+.