With their third album, the Baltimore-based team of vocalist and guitarist Jenn Wasner and drummer-keyboards player Andy Stack creates a dramatic dynamic, challenging the conventions of folk rock. They're capable of both packing emotional punch in quiet acoustic settings and unleashing full-on guitar freak-outs.
The music on Civilian resembles the many personalities and episodes of a storm. The rising and falling dramatic action is sometimes packed into the shifting textures of one song; at other times, it's spread across several of them.
The album starts off with the introspective and delicately pretty melodies of "Two Small Deaths" and "The Alter," and then "Holy Holy" begins to pile up modest, shoegaze-y feedback chunks, like clouds building on the horizon and signaling an impending storm. Then, the intricate, off-kilter avant-pop melodies of "Dogs Eyes" begin to tussle with fat, grimy guitar riffs.
The building tension created by those tunes grows into a full-blown squall on the thrilling title track, which alternates between pensive verses and Crazy Horse-style feedback explosions. Eye-of-the-storm moments such as "Plains," which layers a shimmering folk-pop gloss over a bluesy stomp, provide the occasional breather. Then there's more catharsis in "Hot as Day," in which Wasner's breathy, sweet vocals play against piano and organ filigrees, before she plays some furious guitar riffs that call to mind the infectious energy of Sleater-Kinney.