Release Date: Apr 29, 2014
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic
The opening line on Shriek finds Wye Oak‘s Jenn Wasner singing about waking up on the floor “thinking I have never dreamed before”. Conversely however, that appears to be exactly what she and Andy Stack have done on their fourth album, breaking free to re-imagine their sound and strikingly reconsider exactly what they wanted the band to be. For a duo that have built their career to date around a relatively basic (if often inspired) formula of guitar and drums, the relegation of these core instruments in favour of the dominating presence of synthesizers on Shriek is unexpected, even more so given that such changes in direction are often preceded by bands going through periods of difficulty or struggle – something that didn’t really seem to apply to Wye Oak given the positive reception received by last album Civilian.
It’s been a monumentous (yep) few weeks for Baltimore. Back at the ass-end of March, we had Future Islands’ flawless Singles, a pop tour de force with heartfelt clout and a drizzle of ‘80s new wave. Now, as we near April’s dusk, fellow Marylanders Wye Oak are dropping Shriek, their fourth studio full-length, and their first since 2011’s Civilian (which went supernova in the TV OST world).
Wye Oak fans who were on board with Jenn Wasner's Dungeonesse project from last year—on which she tackled '80s and '90s R&B and pop tropes with a clear love for the form—may not have realized its prescience. Wasner and Wye Oak bandmate Andy Stack are now relegated to different coasts, and as such, have traded in their soft/loud guitar-centric fare for something more manageable from a distance—namely the sort of electronic-based fare present on Dungeonesse. It's the same two-piece but with quite different arrangements—Wasner reaches largely for the bass instead of the six-string, and Stack layers beds of keyboards over relatively simple electronic beats.
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.
Wye Oak’s ascendency has been somewhat splintered. Singer Jenn Wasner and drummer Andy Stack got together in Baltimore back in 2006, though it wasn’t until their last record, 2011’s ‘Civilian’, that they found an audience in Europe. Three years later and they have made ‘Shriek’, their fourth album, while living on different sides of America; Stack moved to California, while Wasner remained in Maryland to work on her electro-pop side-project Dungeonesse, with the prolific multi-instrumentalist Jon Ehrens.
Jenn Wasner was a little worried about reinventing herself on Wye Oak’s fourth album, Shriek. "There is more at stake than whether my feelings get hurt or not," she said in an interview earlier this year, addressing how fans would receive the Baltimore/Portland-based duo’s decision to replace her guitar with synthesizers. "We've been touring in this band, making a living off of it since Civilian, and we are very fortunate that that has been the case, but we're both very aware that it could totally go away.” She had some reason to be concerned.
Like them or not, you gotta give it up for Wye Oak in terms of their sheer artistry and refusal to play it safe. Rather than attempting to lazily replicate 2011’s breakout album Civilian, the Baltimore twosome of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have the pluck to dive into experimentation, accepting the risk that they may fall on their face in the process. With Shriek, the webbing and tethers of Wye Oak’s safety net are severed, that ubiquitous element of modern music and the foundation of the group’s past work—the guitar—kicked to the wayside.
It's understandable that Wye Oak have taken a completely different route on their fourth full-length LP Shriek. Playing the same songs on the same instrument day-in-day-out for the better part of two years would make just about anyone sick of their own music. Despite Civilian being the band's most successful record to date, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner have abandoned their dulcet strums, with Stack also quitting their hometown of Baltimore and moving thousands of miles across the country to the West Coast.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Wye Oak couldn't have picked a trickier time to change direction. After releasing their third album, Civilian, in 2011 the Baltimore duo's career took off in a way it never had before. It took Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner to places they never thought they'd get to see, earned them spots on album of year lists, an appearance on late night TV, and features on multiple indie film and TV soundtracks.
The life of a professional musician is full of paradoxes, but the cruelest is this: Being happy doesn’t always result in good songs. Take, for example, Wye Oak: In 2011, the Baltimore indie-rock duo (frontwoman Jenn Wasner, multi-tasking drummer Andy Stack) released the masterful Civilian, an angsty wallop of simmering, psychedelic texture and electric guitar fervor. But in the wake of that breakthrough LP (and its endless cycle of promotion and touring), they grew bored with the mighty sounds they’d amassed.
Baltimore is becoming our nation's hub for soft-focus synth pop, with great bands like Future Islands, Beach House – and now Wye Oak. On albums such as 2011's excellent Civilian, the duo played noise-seared folk rock. Here, they trade guitars for haunted keyboards without changing up their songwriting. This is tough, knotty indie rock the way Yaz might do it.
Baltimore/Portland-based duo Wye Oak came onto the indie rock scene in 2008 with plucky guitars and decisive drums as their backbone, the odd distorted breakdown scattered throughout for drama and Jenn Wasner's feathery vocals floating overtop. Four albums later, the band is unrecognizable. Wasner traded her signature guitar for bass and synthesizers, while drummer Andy Stack picked up the keyboards as well.
Baltimore duo Wye Oak’s fourth album ‘Shriek’ is the product of circumstances forcing the band to work a little differently. And by being outside their natural comfort zone, the duo of Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner have created an album of intriguing musical variety and striking emotional intimacy.‘Shriek’ is something of a reinvention for the band. For a start, there are no discernible guitars on the album with Wasner preferring to switch to bass with both members playing a gorgeous tapestry of layered keyboard lines that gives songs like the sashaying, sensual pop of ‘Glory’ a lovely bold and bright quality.Perhaps the desire to experiment was down to the band members finding themselves apart from each other for the first time.
Where Baltimore duo Wye Oak's breakthrough third album, 2011's Civilian, featured their usual indie-folk guitars and drums, here they've ditched that sound and instrumentation. Singer Jenn Wasner has switched from guitar to bass, while drummer/keyboard player Andy Stack dabbles in electronics. Changing course to synth-pop on the back of their first taste of success seems a strange move, but lovely opener Before sees Wasner's vocals occupying the same state of electronic grace as Annie Lennox did on No More I Love You's, as drum machines and synths bubble and clatter around her crystal tones.
It’s almost frustrating how cynical Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have become toward their own songs. As Wye Oak, the Baltimore duo has crafted intricate, guitar-driven rock for the better part of the past decade, reaching their peak with 2011’s ponderous masterpiece, Civilian. It was that rare record that existed in the first person, living with the listener, offering emotional projection and vague symbolism that meant nothing (literally) and everything (spiritually) at the same time.
Wye Oak is selling its guitars and buying synthesizers. So goes the pre-release chatter surrounding Shriek, the fourth LP from the duo of vocalist-guitarist Jenn Wasner and drummer Andy Stack—but Internet talking points and online headlines are only the beginning of Shriek’s story. The album still documents the frontwoman’s nimble work on a fretboard, but she’s playing a bass this time around.
Reinvention has long been a dog-eared page in the rock band playbook, and “trade guitars for synthesizers” might be the most underlined statement on the page. For every band that manages that transition with grace and purpose, there are many more that seem driven by desperation, having ….
Before Baltimore duo Wye Oak started work on Shriek, they admitted that the guitar textures that earned them a top spot in the indie-folk kingdom became a sonically confining cage. Lead singer/bassist Jenn Wasner has even referred to the guitar as “baggage” in several interviews between their extensive Civilian tour and the release of this new album. Their solution? Go six-string cold turkey.
opinion byAUSTIN REED Picture this: You’re Jenn Wasner. By way of your prominently celebrated indie rock outfit Wye Oak, you have established a reputation as a musician who operates exclusively within the confines of the utterly visceral. Your lyrics move slowly and deliberately, and your melodic prowess suggests that you spent your formative years as Joni Mitchell’s personal assistant.