Wye Oak - Shriek - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Wye Oak - Shriek

by Calum Adams Rating:7 Release Date:2014-04-28

It’s been three years since we last heard from Wye Oak, and it’s fair to say there have been some big changes in the interim. Giving up your iconic sound, an intricate blend of clean riffs and distorted swelling melodies which climaxed in 2010’s Civilian, may to some seem wild. Yet when Jenn Wesner put away her guitar and replaced it with the synth, she promised to give us a more honest sound.

Shriek is a brave move for the Baltimore duo who, having found success with their third record, could have rode the spoils of their recent popularity. Reviews for Wesner and Andy Stack's previous work gathered much praise, particularly for Wesner’s creative and driving guitar sounds. This, coupled with recent airtime on the small screen, adds to reservations some would have at changing your sound at a time of prosperity.

In a recent interview with Spin, the pair described the guitar as a “weird baggage” holding onto their sound, and with it gone you can really feel a weight taken out of their latest release, which is open to interpretation. Wesner’s distinctive sound often created darker, more broody records, from ‘Holy Holy’ or the much earlier ‘Talking About Money’, tracks which represented Wye Oak’s ability to create a driving yet minimal sound which could descend into distorted but coordinated powerhouse filth at any moment.

‘Before’ sets the tone for the album beautifully, opening with a delicately simple keyboard melody you might expect from M83 yet developing into so much more, with the introduction of a treble-rich bass. This new sound has given Wye Oak more opportunity to use Wesner’s vocal range, from near-spoken-word verses to alto choruses. Though sporadic, this lyrically clearer version of the band lends, at times, to the more ‘sing-a-long’ style of melody.

Yet without the striking guitar, there is a vacancy in the new work, with less punch to the album. The synth may give the ability to provide a vast range of sounds, yet feels slightly under utilized. Previous records had a feeling of clear direction. These later productions at times blur into a string of softer, fragile melodies. ‘I Know the Law’ feels like an experimental piece which never moved past its early conception.

But it’s tracks like ‘Before’, ‘Glory’ and ‘Logic of Color’ which show the duo at their best. While the bass can’t replace the guitar range, it provides a connection between old and new, from a raw past to this neater, crisper sound. As an album closer ‘Logic of Color’, reminds us how creative Wye Oak can be, and that this new direction isn’t a bad thing.

Without the aforementioned weight, this transition is more evolution than revolution. Yet the pair has managed to maintain the personal, unique connection between them that we have seen on previous works. Shriek overall feels like the beginning of something exciting for Wye Oak, a brave reinvention which opens up the band to a new stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear one of the 10 tracks in next year’s indie cinema, and I’m sure we will be watching closely for what this sound further evolves into.

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