Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Album Review: Wye Oak - Shriek

It’s well-documented now that Wye Oak’s fourth album, Shriek, is a total departure from the sound that built the band’s fan base. There was a deliberate attempt to prepare fans through a steady stream of single releases and interviews. Even the opening track, “Before,” starts with a simple, 30 second two-note rhythm seemingly designed to ease listeners into the new, guitar-free sound.

Let’s get the comparisons out of the way: this is not Civilian or The Knot and listeners won’t find the same kind of physical catharsis here. The massive guitar sound is gone and Wye Oak don’t try to replace it with anything. That’s okay. Civilian and The Knot will always be there. Those records won’t disappear just because of the existence of Shriek.

While Shriek won’t physically possess listeners through infectious crescendos, its repetition and rhythm will slowly seep in. Andy Stack produces some unique sounds and dissonances and it takes more time for the harmonies to settle in the ear. When they do, their off-kilter tone meshes well with Jen Wasner’s aggressive bass lines.

The biggest benefit of the new sound is the increased focus on Wasner’s voice. She sounds fuller and bolder than on any previous record. Before, her vocals were a compliments to the wall of sound coming from her guitar. Now, she takes the lead and mesmerizes.

“Glory” is the standout track on Shriek. Wasner sounds completely free during the chorus while complex, but danceable rhythms drive the song. It begs to be put on repeat and stands out as one of Wye Oak’s best songs, even among their guitar-driven material.

“I’d tell you stories, but truth be told, I can’t remember what came before,” Wasner sings on the opening track. She’s changed — or at least uncovering a truer version of herself — and she’s letting the world hear it. That can be terrifying. For that, Shriek is a courageous album.

Shriek is out today on Merge Records. Wye Oak will play Merge 25 on July 25.

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