I remember when Wye Oak came on the scene back in 2008 with their album If Children. They followed it almost immediately with The Knot in 2009, then Civilian two years later. Hard to believe the last is now receiving its 10th Anniversary Reissue on Merge Records.
Civilian has, for many fans, been the pinnacle of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack’s collaboration under the Wye Oak name, and it’s easy to hear why.
The duo’s sound is full and deep, layered with intricacies and dichotomous sounds that Pitchfork accurately noted in their original 2011 review, stating:
Standout track “Holy Holy” encapsulates precisely what Pitchfork was talking about in that review. The soft and loud, the gentle and rough, the clean and dirty—it’s all there.
You can hear it in the title track, which has been my favorite from the band since its original release in 2011.
We all have our own interpretation of songs and lyrics, and when I dig into Civilian, I pull phrases that speak to an entirely relatable fearful-avoidant attachment style, which too has a dichotomy to it: a push-pull, a needy longing and an isolating, independent avoidance.
I don’t need another friend
When most of them I can barely keep up with them
Perfectly able to hold my own hand
But I still can’t kiss my own neck
Songs like this make you want to draw your loved ones close in one moment then self-destruct and dismantle your life in the next.
Cut All The Wires: 2009-2011
Cut All The Wires: 2009-2011 is a compilation of rarities and demos that release label Merge Records dubs as adding “a lost album of 12 unreleased tracks and demos to Civilian’s universe.”
One might originally see Cut All The Wires as JUST a mix of rarities and b-sides, but it’s much more than that. Such albums tend to be disjointed and filled with sloppy transitions between tracks, whereas Cut All The Wires sounds put-together and crafted more like an official release.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t without a few insertions; “Civilian” itself gets its demo tossed in, and there’s a Daytrotter session recording of “Two Small Deaths.” But even with two demos and a live session track, it remains wholly cohesive.
“Half A Double Man” was the first from this gem to come to my attention in the weeks prior to its release. Angular and heavy, Wye Oak hits you with their signature wall of sound. Take a listen:
Also signature to the duo is their juxtaposition with equally soft and melodic tunes like “Black is the Color” and “Ten Fingers.” They flirt with one or the other effortlessly between tracks and within them, and it works beautifully in their favor!
Civilian 10th Anniversary Reissue
I’ve always loved the cover art for Civilian, picturing someone cannonballing into the water. The dark green of the water is vibrant and gives off the impression of depth and mystery. It’s probably dusk.
The photograph suits the album and the band well. Water is an elusive thing, sometimes calm and still while at others destructive and terrifying.
For the Civilian + Cut All the Wires: 2009 – 2011 (Green Swirl Vinyl) 10th Anniversary Reissue, the records are packaged in a dual front cover gatefold sleeve with an OBI spine strip. Housed within are full-color inner dust sleeves with lyrics, all of them matching the palette of the original Civilian art.
Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the green swirl vinyl, too, matches, pulling dark greens and whites and blues from the water detailed in the packaging. Here’s my unboxing video:
The only thing I dislike more than a bad sounding pressing is colored vinyl that doesn’t add to or draw from something within the packaging. Granted, the vinyl is more blue-green, and the blue is pulled out more in the photos I took to accompany this post.
Still, overall this may be one of the most beautifully packaged records in my collection spanning over 2,500 LPs, singles, and cassettes.