Bands putting down their guitars and picking up synths has become a tired trend in the indie rock world. I totally understand that electronic music has bled into all our lives, and musicians are influenced by what they here and love. Still, its become a common and tedious narrative to so many new albums in the past five years. But Baltimore duo Wye Oak’s synth reinvention is different for a number of reasons. Instead of shedding their rock sensibilities in favor of a shinier and dancier sound, Wye Oak’s latest Shriek shows the band actually amplifying their rockingness through the use of virtuousic bass and jarring synthesizers.
Wye Oak’s music was best known for its still beauty and overall “haunted-ness”, similar to fellow Baltimore duo Beach House, but on Shriek, frontwoman Jenn Wasner and drummer Andy Stack inject a newfound energy into their music. Wye Oak have never made anything as boisterous and jolting as lead single “The Tower”, a song that finds the drumming (front beat) and synthesizers (backbeat) fighting for rhythmic dominance, keeping you on your toes the entire four minutes . On “The Tower”, Wasner also rips a mean solo on a distorted bass, which has largely taken the place of her guitar solos alongside the bright synths, and playing both like a true rock star. It’s odd in several ways that by putting down their guitars, the band actually sounds more virtuosic and rock ‘n’ roll on songs like “Glory” and “Despicable Animal”. The riffs are bigger and catchier than ever.
Wasner has always had a knack for finding a really pretty melody, and lingering on it till it lands deep in your subconscious, and a number of songs on Shriek are no different. “Sick Talk” feels like the sort of song that was built around the central melody, as it permeates the rest of the song with its sparkling beauty. “I Know The Law” plays a similarly fluttering melody, with Wasner exploring her vocal range, but with less success. “Schools of Eyes” plays like a darker version of a Haim song, snapping around its tight bass groove.
Andy Stack’s drumming is also immediate and ear-grabbing here. Songs like “Despicable Animal” and “Glory” are fun to listen to and just zero in on the drums and follow them around. The drumming in Wye Oak has always been interesting, but now that it’s been brought farther up in the mix, it is all the more striking.
As often happens with synthesizers enter the picture, Shriek is no doubt a little sleeker of a sound than other Wye Oak efforts, which more quietly grow and reveal themselves over time. Shriek is easily their most instantly lovable album, but it doesn’t quite grow in the same way The Knot and Civilian did. Thus Shriek makes for a really great starting point for someone for getting into Wye Oak, but I’m unsure I will be returning to Shriek at the same rate as Wye Oak’s last two albums.
Can’t Miss: “The Tower”, “Sick Talk”, “Shriek”, “Despicable Animal”
Can’t Hit: “I Know The Law”