In 2011 we welcomed Wye Oak’s stunning third full length release, Civilian, which was a record of huge growth and refinement for Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack. After such a great album, it’s often hard to imagine where a band will travel next, especially one so small as this duo. This forth time around, the two have gone electronic, ditching the guitars from before and replacing them with atmospheric and electronic sounds. It is an interesting choice, especially after the success of their last release and one that comes with its rewards and drawbacks.
They open slowly this time around with “Before,” and immediately the new style is audible; a synthetic soundscape fills your ears as this duo transport you to a space of tranquility and effortless sound. The percussion is distant, with a faded, subtle quality that offers a dreamy kind of mood to the tune. Of course you have Wasner’s indistinguishable vocals that confess the opening and closing line of the song: “This morning/ I woke up on the floor/ thinking I’d never dreamed before.” The mood of the album is elucidated in that brief lyric; the whole thing feels a bit like melancholic and unpinned nostalgia expressed via delicate sound.
I was quite impressed with the first half of the album; while the sound is not overwhelmingly complex or drastic, the songs they’ve crafted are a solid step into the electronic side of things. Title track, “Shriek,” picks the tempo up a little while maintaining that dream-upon-waking atmosphere. Lead single and my personal favorite track, “Glory,” will have you dancing along to the beat while the vocals craft a bit of drama to latch onto, propelling the song from just being a groovy number.
While there are still some pretty good tracks on Shriek that beg for repeated listening, the sweeping majesty that was introduced on the past album isn’t really matched here. I find myself missing the clean guitar and Wasner’s crisp and elegant vocals that Wye Oak did so well the last time around. After the mid point of the album there is certainly a drop off in the level of intrigue in the tracks and the minimalist sound becomes a bit bleak. That being said, I appreciate the last song, “Logic of Color, ” as the electronic elements take a backseat to the vocals and round out the album with a track reminiscent of those encountered earlier on the album.
Shriek takes Wye Oak down a different path than we’ve seen them go before, and it is enticing for the most part, but I wish a few of the tracks went a little further down this trail and out of the box.