Released July 31, 2020
Brooklyn Youth Chorus featured on new Wye Oak EP
No Horizon, the latest release from acclaimed indie rock duo, Wye Oak, features the Chorus on all five tracks.
Last September, members of the Chorus gathered at National Sawdust to record a series of songs with Wye Oak. The results of that session will be released on a new EP, No Horizon, out in full on July 31.
And on Wye Oak’s new No Horizon EP—which, true to the band’s malleable nature, sounds little like the tantalizing standalone tracks the band has been dropping over the last year or two—they’re joined by a different set of temporary contributors. The EP was recorded with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, a mammoth choir that lends a shot of instant grandiosity to everything they touch, including recent tracks by The National and Bon Iver.
It’s incredible how the notion of an indie-rock choir has expanded since the mid ’00s, when Saddle Creek artists might invite whoever happened to be near the studio over for what amounted to a campfire sing-along. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus doesn’t do informality. Their arrangements are as ornate and stately as chapel glass, every interweaving vocal meticulously plotted for maximum orchestral impact. They don’t merely augment the songs on No Horizon; they drive them. Opener “AEIOU” dazzles with layer upon layer of kaleidoscopic refractions of voice. On “No Place,” the choir subsumes Wasner’s dusky vocals almost completely; here, she’s just one singer among dozens.
No Horizon is a collaboration with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus that pushes Wye Oak into unknown territory. But instead of getting lost out there, they retrieved a suite of music that’s completely what it is, with hardly a redundant moment, rising to the glittering heights of last fall’s single, “Fortune.” It’s minimal yet majestic, experimental yet melodic, with massive basses, pressurized percussion, sculptural guitars and synths, and centerpiece vocals—in short, the kind of arty indie rock that has a credible path to Grammy consideration.
This is a world the young folks in the Brooklyn Youth Chorus know well. Distinguished in classical music, the group is also a growing concern in popular music, appearing on some of the biggest indie-your-dad-knows records of recent years: The National’s I Am Easy to Find, Bon Iver’s i,i, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest.
Under the Radar
Here, Wasner and longtime musical partner Andy Stack team up with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The Chorus have certainly earned their indie cred with the likes of Bon Iver and The National, but have also rubbed shoulders with musical royalty of the likes of Barbara Streisand and Sir Elton John. And they bring a regal flair to Wye Oak’s repertoire as well.
The purity of Wasner’s vocal lead and empathetic plea to use “understanding as a weapon” merge seamlessly with the soft voices of the Chorus. As the pace and volume picks up to the close, the power of speaking with one voice becomes imminently clear.
Wye Oak’s addition of a full chorus is not just toyed with here or used as background noise. When parsed as an element of the songs and expertly arranged as on “AEIOU” and “Spitting Image,” brilliant sparks emerge. And if they say youth is wasted on the young, at least the current members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus get to experience their elders paving a path of songs that long for a deeper understanding of each other. That’s something that all involved in this project can be proud of.
The newest of those No Horizon tracks — and presumably the last one we’ll hear before the EP comes out on Friday — is called “Spitting Image.” As with the other tracks, Wasner and Stack recorded this one with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the kind of touch that really allows Wye Oak to go for full dazed-beauty sensory overload. Over rising, impressionistic tides of drums and electronics, Wasner’s voice winds in and out of the chorus. It’s pretty overwhelming.
“No Place” continues their team-up with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the kids singing first and Wasner emphasizing every line with a sing-songy whisper. It’s slinking and expands beautifully into a ghostly shimmer. “Who are you? Who am I? Where are we? What’s happened to us?” they ask at the song’s climax, some timely questions.
Of the five tracks, “No Place” stands out, its use of minor chord progressions pulsing with a beautifully melancholic, ominous tone. Rather than call and response, the gossamer vocals of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus are followed by a monotone vocal mirroring of what’s been sung, a twinning with Wasner’s weighty words. No Horizon pairs ecstasy with pensiveness, using experimentation, static, tension and texture to push Wye Oak’s skills ever forward
The collaboration adds a new dynamic to Wye Oak’s sound, and at play here are thoughts and themes around the human body, and just where we’re headed as we become less reliant on it.
Beats Per Minute
Rarely is a children’s choir treated as a sophisticated entity worthy of a full project’s worth of exploration. Fortunately, Wye Oak is not a typical indie rock band, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus is not a typical children’s choir either. The five songs that make up No Horizon were born out of a live collaboration between the two groups that closed out the 2019 Ecstatic Music Festival in New York. The young choristers’ bright, buoyant singing brings an airy freshness to this singular set of synth-laden art-pop songs, a well-suited sonic palette for Jenn Wasner’s thoughtful musings on contemporary life.
The light, glimmering textures of the choir complement the synth-heavy instrumentals beautifully, at moments creating a certain kind of pristine magic.
The collaborative magic of the choir is something we’ve had to live largely without since the pandemic began, and likely isn’t coming back anytime soon. No Horizon captures that magic beautifully, reminding us of its existence, and even transmitting it to those who might not have experienced it before. It’s a fitting way to flesh out Wasner’s reflections on communication and isolation, which feel particularly relevant and profound in our present moment. The comforting conclusion that we are never as truly alone as we may feel is just as apparent in Wasner’s words as it is in the choir’s glistening arrangements
It’s just magisterial music, transcendent, huge music, yet also sad, intimate, probing. How wonderful it is to hear these artists at the peak of their powers, now a long-lived band but more ambitious than ever. I can’t wait for what’s next.Click here to Order