Ten years after its release, Wye Oak’s Civilian remains a raw, sinewy punch of a record—bleak and intense and lonely and self-assured all at once. The album unravels with the sort of self-questioning and uncertainty that come with youth, and its specific confidence in unflinchingly probing all of those emotions. When Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner released Civilian, it marked both the ascension and death of Wye Oak, or at least a version of it. Now, a decade later, Civilian + Cut All the Wires: 2009–2011 delves back into that pivotal record and adds a lost album of unreleased tracks and demos to Civilian’s universe.
Today, Wye Oak share “Electricity,” a massive track from Cut All the Wires and the song that lends the 10th anniversary release its title: “There’s nothing about you that I don’t adore / Show me these rooms and I’ll show you the way to the door / Walk me through / I’ll cut all the wires and spend my life with you.”
The Civilian + Cut All the Wires: 2009–2011 double-LP is pressed on deluxe green swirl Peak Vinyl housed in a gatefold jacket that features each album’s cover when flipped. Pre-order your copy today.
Stack on uncovering “Electricity” and the material on Cut All the Wires:
After playing “Electricity” in live shows for a year or so around 2009, we made a studio recording but never mixed it, and ultimately decided to shelve the song. And so, it was relegated to the dustbin of time, AKA an old hard drive which I did not unearth until 2020 when I came looking for old photos and other memorabilia from the Civilian era. On my old drive, I found a treasure trove of material which we had both forgotten ever existed—original demos, live versions of the songs, and, most exciting, a bunch of fully realized studio recordings from this era which never saw the light of day. On “Electricity,” I was really bashing the drums in a way that I never would now, and I hear that same abandon in Jenn’s singing. The recording has much of what defined the first phase of Wye Oak: an urgent push and pull between chaos and beauty, and a hard-hitting attempt to push out as much sound as we possibly could from our duo setup. It’s not who we are anymore, but I still relate to the old feeling, and I still get goosebumps when I listen to these recordings. Everything old is new.
Wye Oak has always existed, and likely always will, at an intersection, as a paradox. Gentle and jagged, fierce and vulnerable—even the clinical sheen of the word “civilian” feels at odds with a record whose content is almost violently human. As Wasner wrote in a short note that accompanied promotional mailings of the record to press in 2011: “These are songs about aloneness (the positive kind), loneliness (the horrible kind), moving on, and letting go (of people, places, and things).”
Civilian was beloved upon release, complete with late-night TV appearances, sold-out concerts, and glowing reviews; it was the A.V. Club’s favorite album of 2011. With that acclaim came inevitable burnout, thanks in part to Wye Oak’s workhorse mentality, the 200+ shows they performed on the back of the album’s release, and a persistently misogynistic narrative about Wasner’s guitar skills. But rather than recoil, the band decided to rethink: Civilian set the duo on a decade-long course of innovation. On Shriek, the follow-up to Civilian, they completely did away with guitars. And now, in 2021, Wye Oak seem to have fully ditched the album format. From a steady stream of standalone singles (over the weekend, “Its Way With Me” was included on Barack Obama’s summer playlist) to 2020’s No Horizon, their EP collaboration with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Wasner and Stack are fully committed to reinventing their sound over and over again. Devoting nearly 2,000 words to its 10th anniversary earlier this year, Stereogum described Civilian as “an album of hellos and goodbyes at the same time, introducing us to everything Wye Oak could be, before setting the stage for the other Wye Oaks we’d soon get to know, and all the others we’ve still yet to meet.”