So what do I know about Wye Oak? Well, I know Jenn Wasner has one of those voices you want to hear sing just about anything. It’s a dark and breathy kind of voice. It’s the kind of voice you want to crawl into and take a nap in. There’s an all-knowing maturity in her pipes, but also an underlying sweetness. She’s also quite a capable guitarist, as she’s proven that over the course of three albums since 2007. It’s not that sweet, folksy plucking that girls are supposed to play. Well, sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s quite lovely. But she can also get messy and noisy, creating squall and grit like the best of ’em. I also know that Andy Stack lays down the drum beats, keys, and probably noodles with knobs and faders in the studio. Over the course of seven years Wasner and Stack have put out three solid records filled with guitar-based indie tunes that with each album have gotten progressively better and better. They peaked with 2011s Civilian, an album filled with catchy songs and tight songcraft that got the Baltimore duo more exposure than they’d ever seen. It’s now 2014 and Wye Oak have given us a follow-up in the album Shriek. What do you do after you release an album like Civilian? You tear down your kingdom and rebuild it from the ground up.
Now don’t be worried. That great songcraft is still here in all its glory. The Wasner/Stack magic is still front and center. They’ve just traded in the guitar-based songs for a decidedly more 80s sound. Keyboards have stepped up to the plate this time around and Wasner’s voice is even more the centerpiece than it was before. “Before” is a dreamy track that could’ve been a hit for the Eurythmics back in 1983. Jenn Wasner has that auburn-hued, sultry Annie Lennox quality here that I think has always been there, it just wasn’t as this apparent. “Shriek” is carried along with a loping piano line as noises whisp by your ears. Andy Stack does a great job of creating mood and emotion with the keys and programming, allowing Wasner to get lost in the feel of the song. “The Tower” and “Sick Talk” benefit greatly from the band’s newfound love for synths and bass-driven beats.
If you’re a fan already and you follow Jenn Wasner’s other musical endeavors then you are familiar with Dungeonesse, her synth pop side project with Jon Ehrens. That band’s very pop feel plays an important role in the direction that Wye Oak have taken this time around. While not completely going pop, they’ve added a decidedly more synthetic aesthetic to the organic, earthy sound of past albums. The results I think have revitalized them as a band. As goods as If Children, The Knot, and Civilian were I think Wye Oak were in danger of being swallowed by the boy/girl Tsunami that hit our musical shores a few years ago, and unfairly I might add. This shift in sound and instrumentation has set them even further apart from their contemporaries. Songs like “Despicable Animal”, “Paradise”, and album closer “Logic Of Color” deserve to be heard and admired on their own merit.
Shriek is a change for the better. A re-establishing of an already proven great band, now spreading their wings. Wasner and Stack delivered a great follow-up and what sounds like a new phase in their musical history. It’s also a great album to play really loud in the car, at home, and in your headphones. The first great summer record of the year.
8.2 out of 10