Wye Oak’s Favorite Songs That Feature Exceptional Vocal Arrangements
Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack share some tracks that inspired No Horizon, their EP collaboration with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
This Friday, Wye Oak—the dream-pop duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack—are set to release an EP they recorded with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which (obviously) spotlights vocals as the project’s focal point. No Horizon is the group’s first release since dropping The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs back in 2018, and it proves a peculiarly powerful return from the Baltimore-reared band five records deep into their career.
While the duo’s development in terms of experimental instrumentation has evolved on the record’s five tracks, that often gets lost behind the haunting presence of the youth choir following Wasner’s wispy lead. The record may sound wholly unlike anything their predecessors have put out, but Wasner and Stack gave us some context for the EP by sharing a lengthy playlist of songs with vocal arrangements they looked to for inspiration. With everyone from Grouper to Dan Deacon to Frank Ocean accounted for, it’s easy to understand why No Horizon is so difficult to classify.
Stream the playlist and read on for commentary from the band. No Horizon drops this Friday via Merge—pre-order it here.
Talk Talk, “I Believe in You”
It’s a slow burn, but your patience will be rewarded with the entrance of the choir at around three minutes in. Otherworldly—unexpected, but totally seamless. Brings me to tears every time.
Frank Ocean, “Pretty Sweet”
I mean…this song is just wild. Packs a lot of punch into just over two minutes. It’s a bit eerie, too…hearing the children’s choir enter at the end makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’m on this side.
Aldous Harding, “Party”
Aldous Harding’s whole catalog is basically a master class on finding power in simplicity. I’m absolutely in awe of her. This song is a masterpiece. The entire vocal performance is sublime but when the harmonies enter in the second chorus it’s utterly stunning.
Grouper, “Parking Lot”
I saw Liz Harris play a show at midnight in a dark auditorium as part of Hopscotch Fest a few years back, and it was one of the more memorable shows of my life. I’ve always been so impressed by the vocal production on her records—in person it was more intimate but even more powerful. The room was nearly dark and I spent the entire show not entirely certain whether I was awake or dreaming. It felt like I was back in the womb. In other news, I miss live music, and I’m going to go cry about it now.
Björk is a legend. This has been one of my favorite songs since I was a teenager, and it’s still some of the most moving music I’ve ever heard.
Mountain Man, “Moon”
My sweet pals in Mountain Man are some of the best around at understanding and harnessing the power of the simple, direct, and unadorned human voice. This song is so special. I highly recommend singing along to the chorus that consists only of the word “Die” repeated over and over the next time you feel like your brain is starting to melt.
Kate Bush, “Rocket’s Tail (For Rocket)”
I don’t really buy into the concept of “favorites” (usually my favorite thing is whatever I’m listening to at the moment) but The Sensual World might be my favorite KB record? This song really sends it over the top for me. It was also my introduction to Bulgarian choral music, which is a fantastic rabbit hole that I highly recommend disappearing into.
Judee Sill, “The Donor”
The first time I heard Judee Sill I thought I was being haunted. Like, literally haunted by a ghost—I was alone at home and suddenly it just felt like there was someone else in my house with me. It spooked me. I love all of her music deeply, but this song is especially eerie. The fact that the song culminates in a bizarre and haunting chant of “Kyrie eleison” certainly doesn’t hurt the mystique.
Beach House, “Days of Candy”
I love these two, and I think this is one of their most unique and sophisticated songs. A truly gorgeous song, perfectly delivered.
The Roches, “My Sick Mind”
The Roches are my heroes. Pioneers, trailblazers—unafraid to write truthfully, even unflatteringly, unconcerned with appearances, hilarious, and heart-wrenching in equal amounts. Utterly singular. And, y’know, crazy good at singing. Any one of their songs would be a fit on this playlist, but I chose this one because it’s so fucking odd.
Lijadu Sisters, “Danger”
No harmonies here, just a crazy perfect vocal double that’s clearly happening in real time. The way their voices are able to mirror each other perfectly is truly bizarre and wonderful.
Lambchop, “Up With People”
“Come on, progeny!” Gimme a fucking break. One of my all time favorite songs from a true artist and honest to goodness American icon. Kurt, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry to embarrass you publicly with praise.
Jessica Pratt, “Night Faces”
I’ve been fascinated by this song for years. I mean, who hears harmony like this? It’s like how a Nick Drake song would sound if it was written by some sort of artificial intelligence.
Dan Deacon, “Wet Wings”
Baltimore pal Dan layers the single voice of an old shape note melody into a jittery choir singing in round and digitally folding in on itself. It’s an uncanny valley of the voice, unmistakably human but disarmingly machine.
Stereolab, “Miss Modular”
I’ve always been drawn into the loungey “ba-da-bas” and vocal counterpoints of Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier and Mary Hansen. They’re one of my all-time favorite groups. Jenn and I had tickets to see them at Cat’s Cradle in May, but sadly the tour had to be cancelled.
Mount Eerie, “Voice in Headphones”
Phil Elverum, in a room with the Canadian musicians Julie Doiron and Frederick Squire. Their voices are perfect together, and here on “Voice in Headphones,” Phil gets all tearful while listening to Björk’s Vespertine chorus: “It’s not meant to be a strife / It’s not meant to be a struggle uphill.” Doiron and Squire fill in behind him and repeat that mantra over and over as Phil elaborates about how much he loves Björk.
Smog, “Hit the Ground Running”
Bill Callahan employs a choir of children to sing about his freewheeling escape. They’re the id to the ego of his cagey, smooth baritone.
tUnE-yArDs, “Real Thing”
Merrill Garbus’ vocal range is only rivaled by the range of her fearless arrangements and production. I could have pretty much chosen any tUnE-yArDs song to exemplify her talents, but this song is a balance of taught harmonies and unhinged belting.