Fourth album of eerie, melancholic folk-rock from the slow-burning US duo
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. It has taken a while for Wye Oak to grow, and their records share a similar slow-burn property. ‘Civilian’ spun traditional notions of folk – beautiful female voice versus melancholy subject matter – into something far creepier that seeped into your psyche, rather than seized your attention.
‘Shriek’’s twist on the pair’s eerie folk rock aesthetic is to nix the guitars and lean heavily on bass and synthesizers – the very first sound you hear on the very first song, ‘Before’, is the tentative prodding of a keyboard which, by the time Wasner’s bass guitar joins in, sounds like it could be the theme to an ’80s game show.
But although the nocturnal moodiness is at a minimum, the melancholy remains. ‘Glory’ may show off the occasional synth dalliance that resembles Chairlift’s more chipper moments, but the lyrics find Wasner regarding a potential new beau with suspicion bordering on superstition, asking herself “Oh no, is this another albatross?” – a pretty glass-half-empty way to look at the joy of fancying people, by any stretch.
‘I Know The Law’, meanwhile, is the album’s emotional anchor and finds the frontwoman wrangling with self-preservation in a loveless relationship, mournfully resolving to “preserve the myth”, though she “cannot deliver”. ‘The Tower’ continues the juxtaposition of styles, pitting gentle, off-beat jabs of keyboard and what can only be described as a bass solo against ”the fear of dying incomplete”, though the whole thing shimmers by too easily to feel weighty or depressing.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about ‘Shriek’ is that it’s the child of a long-distance relationship – that Stack and Wasner can make something sound so together while so far apart. It’s been a long wait, but Wye Oak are beginning to blossom.