Although Wye Oak’s latest album starts strong, and with a lot of elements in play, at the end of its run time it feels as if it has entirely slipped through our fingers and fallen away. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs is a step further into the realm of electronica-infused pop/rock from their last “official” album, Shriek (which came before 2016’s Tween, which was a collection of previously unreleased material), but it might go too far into that new realm.
The album begins relatively strong, if a little overwhelming, with an instrumental intro “(tuning)” – which is what it sounds like – followed by several songs that are pretty solid and experiment well enough with different sounds. “The Instrument” is a new sound for the band, but is a little jarring for a start to the album because of the fast-paced energy of the music, with the layered musical elements and effected vocals that are nearly drowned out in the music at some points. On first listen it sounded a bit like a few songs were smashed on top of each other and playing at the same time. It’s an interesting experience, but for this listener it was unnecessarily agitating. “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs” follows and calms everything down enough to make it a little less overwhelming to listen to, but doesn’t offer much in the way of lyrical or musical depth – an issue common with many of the songs on this album. They’re frequently fine enough to listen to, they certainly are not the worst songs you could choose to play, but they don’t leave you with much of a feeling about what you just heard, except maybe a fleeting “that was interesting.”
The possible exceptions to that are the fourth and fifth tracks, “The Lifer” and “It Was Not Natural.” “The Lifer” is the first slow track of the album, turning the energy down enough to allow a little introspective gentleness inside. It is also the first song to feature more thorough lyrics, as it expresses a clearer message about staying alive through difficulties and choosing to believe that “life will be better.” “It Was Not Natural” is the easy standout track of the album. It has more of an emphasis on a regular beat than the previous songs, and the way it builds into a soaring chorus through each verse makes the song very accessible and inherently appealing.
Soon after that – at about the midway point – the album begins to lose a lot of the energy it came out of the gate with. “Symmetry” is somewhat interesting, as it carries dashes of Kraftwerk and Devo in its experimentally industrial-lite music and lyrics. Later tracks “Over and Over” and “Join” distinguish themselves ever-so-slightly by having the smallest bit of country western in the them, but otherwise the last five songs fail to stick out in ways that the first five do. The track “Say Hello” does work to solidify a subtle theme of the album, of examining the tension between the highs and lows of the human experience. “Say Hello,” “It Was Not Natural,” “Join” and “The Lifer” in particular highlight some of the conflict between human desire or ambition and the reality people must live in that often makes fulfilling those desires so difficult. The lyrics on the album often seem to indicate the challenge of just living, and being human, while the music slightly suggests the integral and elemental nature of that challenge. The cover art contributes to this feeling as well, as with its desert setting and identical train of people it creates a kind of psychedelic or mystical impression.
Despite the admirable sentiment of the album, there ultimately isn’t as much variety or memorable impressions as a listener might want. The album starts strong and propulsive, chugging long rather intensely for the first half, but by the time you’re in the final three tracks the music seems to audibly lose some steam, so much so that once it’s over it feels like a shrug – “oh, that was it?” At its best moments, the music reaches new heights that take us into a compelling and experimental pop space, but at its worst the lyrics and music both fail to stand out and grab you, while some of the songs are so complex and layered and possibly poorly mixed that they overwhelm and hit you in the face as one, heavy indecipherable object.
That level of electronic experimentation may appeal to you, but otherwise Wye Oak have produced albums in the past that are more polished and probably worth revisiting instead of trying to love the entirety of this new release.