Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have making folk-tinged indie rock as Wye Oak for years. Their 2011 breakout, Civilians, earned them critical love and high expectations. So, when the pair decided to ditch guitars for synthesizers, it was a risky “Losing My Edge”-feeling move. It totally worked.
Shriek is the product of Wasner’s creative rut. Her other projects — Dungeonesse and Flock of Dimes — were satisfying an itch for some time, while she still had something to say with her guitar. But she ran out of things to say, left Baltimore for Portland, and soon realized she could set the guitar aside. Now, she’s on bass and Stack is on synth duty. Gone are guitar freakouts and the intense pummeling of drums.
It sounds like the change came pretty easily, and it is quite a change. Shriek doesn’t rip like its predecessors. The drums are tighter and snappier. The melodies are cleaner coming from the synths. Relatively speaking, this is shinier and more luxurious, but in true Wye Oak form, there are still jarring moments and dissonance. A guitar meltdown might sound gnarlier, but when that attitude is applied to an endless well of sounds, it’s more textured and every little idea rings through.
More room to breath means Wasner’s voice is showcased more than ever, and she’s displaying vocals that are meatier and have a bigger range. It’s sometimes unclear what she’s saying, since she’s writing abstractly, but she sounds great saying it.
A total sonic makeover isn’t always this successful. As always, fans are bound to miss the old Wye Oak, but if the change is what’s needed to keep them going, we’ll take it. It sounds damn good, anyway.