After pushing their noisy, guitar-driven indie rock as far as it would go on 2011's Civilian and the massive tour that followed its release, the duo behind Wye Oak decided it was time for a drastic change. Drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack moved away from Baltimore, while vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner launched two new projects (Flock of Dimes, Dungeonesse) that traded in indie rock for something more electronic and R&B-based, respectively. When Stack and Wasner got back together to start working on their fourth album, Shriek, they ditched the straightforward, guitar-centric approach of previous efforts and incorporated elements from Wasner's solo projects instead, with songs being written on bass instead of guitar. This choice opens up their sound to an incredible degree, giving Wasner's rich vocals a backing that's more rhythmically interesting and warmly enveloping. While there are still some electric guitars on board, they are used as the occasional splash of noisy color. The album is built around swooning banks of synths, bleeping key-based melodies, Stack's choppy drum patterns and programs, and Wasner's bouncy basslines. She proves to be just as adept at crafting memorable bass parts as she was bashing and strumming them out on guitars. Her vocals rise to the challenge of the revamped sound to become her most powerful and varied yet; her work with Dungeonesse, where she had to channel her inner dance music belter, seems to have really inspired her. Not only did Wye Oak change up their sound drastically, they did the same with their songwriting. There's precious little folk left in their songs, and not much indie rock either. Instead, they mix up some quiet storm balladry, some Everything But the Girl-ish crooning, a touch of '80s pop, and a lot of restraint to get a nice hybrid that is pretty unique compared to what's going on in 2014's indie scene. Even the songs that do fall firmly within the indie rock framework, like "Paradise," are more complicated and interesting than what the duo was doing before. It makes for an incredibly sophisticated and enriching album that's very easy to sink into deeply and completely, the emotions and arrangements filling your ears and heart with a flowing warmth. Sure, the sound of Shriek may scare off people who need guitars to be the focal point of their indie rock, but for anyone with a slightly more experimental nature or anyone who likes synths and subtlety and wonderfully emotive vocals, it's a great and welcome surprise that's a brilliant step forward for Wye Oak.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra