Rewards patient and close listening and contains a surprising number of hooks that will stay with you for days.
Baltimore-born Andy Stack may be familiar from Wye Oak and the skilled multi-instrumentalism he provides to Lambchop, Helado Negro and National side-project EL VY. Recording as Joyero, his first full-length solo album, Release the Dogs, gives the contemporary folk of Wye Oak a dusting of glitchy electronica in a complex collection of songs whose apparent simplicity belies their careful construction.
Gentle digital noises skip and flutter across analog drums, percussion, brass and guitars throughout, which sounds occasionally harsh and atonal but more often creates a polyrhythmic effect akin to moths bumping against porch lights on a summer night. Such attention to rhythmic elements befits Stack’s role in Wye Oak, which sees him drumming and playing keyboards often simultaneously. Stack has commented elsewhere that “To be both intimate and expansive at the same time is a tough one, but it can definitely be done,” and this theme is audible as he manages a wide range of sonic sources without ever swamping the spacious compositions with extraneous elements. Release the Dogs plays the merciless precision of digital beats, however lightly administered, against Stack’s pleasingly vulnerable voice and lyrics and a foundation of rhythmic complexity.
Album opener “Alight” sets the scene with synth bass notes functioning as a percussive element alongside bouncy drum machine rhythms and a quintessential organ chord sequence before collapsing and recomposing. As Stack sings “And I tell you I wanted/ To be part of it …,” the drum machine alternates between bounce and stutter and the song builds and decays in a play of opposites that typifies the album. “Dogs” follows with more polyrhythms, adding a lightly distorted guitar to the chorus “While you’re away/ I wait outside the house/ Lift an ear to every sound/ I sleep all day like a dog whose master’s out/ I don’t know up from down.”
Further on, the single “Salt Mine” provides a perfect example of the ways in which Stack manages a deft contrast and skillful blending of the organic and inorganic. The buzz of reverbed and multitracked voices ushers in string samples while a delicate and complex beat gathers beneath, setting up lyrics that create a vivid image of the natural world: “On the banks behind the salt mine/ We gather up around the water line/ Drop rocks in pockets and leave the body behind/ And let it fall back to the empty night.”
Throughout the album, rhythm does more than serve as a vehicle for the music; rhythm is, in Stack’s very able hands, integral in the creation of a deeply affective collection that can recall The Shins in each song’s mixture of prosaic detail and delicacy. Stack also suggests a similar interplay in Simon and Garfunkel, whose musical sophistication was dressed in the most accessible folk-pop forms. Release the Dogs sits happily in the background, but it absolutely rewards patient and close listening and contains a surprising number of hooks that will stay with you for days.