It's understandable that Wye Oak have taken a completely different route on their fourth full-length LP Shriek. Playing the same songs on the same instrument day-in-day-out for the better part of two years would make just about anyone sick of their own music. Despite Civilian being the band's most successful record to date, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner have abandoned their dulcet strums, with Stack also quitting their hometown of Baltimore and moving thousands of miles across the country to the West Coast. It was a record that almost murdered their creativity and put a stop to Wye Oak completely. So, instead of surrendering to the post-tour block, Wesner picked up a bass and Stack was able to stretch his talents to the more electronic side of percussion.
Where Civilian's 'Two Small Deaths' opened with background chatterings, Anathallo-like rhythms and Wasner's gorgeous drawl, Shriek's 'Before' offers up staccato synths and an atmospheric swell of off-beat picks that layer themselves to create a mirage of electronic cracks and flutters under a vocal that has never sounded better. Wasner sounds vulnerable yet confident; assured of her new direction yet still showcasing the honesty that we all know and love her for. Explaining "This morning, I woke up on the floor, thinking I had never dreamed before" before breaking into "I'd tell you stories but truth be told, I can't remember what came before,", proving that her post-tour dip hit her hard and this 'new sound' was the only way she was ever going to write again.
The duo were more involved in the production process than ever before, working alongside The War on Drugs and Dirty Projectors producer Nicolas Vernhes. It shows too, as the increase in electronic crackles and whips are perfected with dynamic precision - allowing you to enjoy every single twist and turn on those synths.
Wasner has previously toured with Dirty Projectors, which gave her the chance to experiment with her voice in a way that Wye Oak had never enabled her to. Shriek gives her a platform to use her vocal as an instrument itself, especially on stand-out offering 'Glory'. An instant dance-floor indie anthem, Wasner opens with a lowered, sultry execution before using her anthemic aspects and coating harmonies to showcase the ever-catchy chorus to its fullest potential. The breakdown towards the end of the song sounds as if all three are hitting just about everything electronic, like a small child taking to pots and pans, but it works - really well. This one will have you throwing your hands in the air like you honestly don't care.
Lead single 'The Tower' continues to put Wasner's voice centre stage but backed by looping, computerised instruments, it allows us to appreciate Stack's talents in both percussion and melody in which the band's previous releases may have overlooked. The same could be said for 'Paradise', as Stack's frantic thwacks and arpeggio pressings almost overshadow the vocal effort in a way that we have never witnessed from Wye Oak.
There are definitely some stand-out tracks on the album, with others proving less infectious - namely, 'Despicable Animal' that sounds almost bored with itself at points with a sluggish rhythm and unaffecting structure. However, that shouldn't take away from the triumph that Shriek is for Wye Oak. Producing a pop-infused package that channels both Stack and Wasner's strengths, this is an album that seems to scratch the surface of the band's creative experimentation. They've done a great job in incorporating new instruments and structures and yet, still managing to sound like the Wye Oak we fell in love with. Die-hard fans of Civilian may be wary but after a few listens, this will sit proudly alongside some of the band's best work.
7Sammy Maine's Score