Wye Oak may have begun its career playing sincere, feelings-filled indie folk, but over time, the duo has gotten synthier and dreamier, and on its fourth album, Shriek, that shift is more dramatic than ever before.
The album begins with a simple pattern of two synth notes, but then other elements — a funky, minimalist beat and a lush synth soundscape — come into the mix, making "Before" something entirely unexpected: a poignant, delicate jam. The dreaminess continues with the title track, which is built upon a looped keyboard-piano melody, syncopated beat, and Jenn Wasner's gorgeously translucent voice, which performs some shiver-inducing vocal acrobatics; the song is simultaneously haunting, catchy, and danceable. Just when you thought the album couldn't get any hookier, Wye Oak hits you with "The Tower": Staccato synth chords bounce along as drummer Andy Stack's snare-kick-drum pattern turns the song into a head-nodding groove. The slinky, similarly funky bass line of "Sick Talk" could make it the heaviest of hip-hop tracks — except that the chorus takes it into Helio Sequence-like dreamscape territory, with a waterfall of differently textured synthesizers and Wasner's ethereal voice soaring above it all. "School of Eyes" has a shuffling, jazzy rhythm and a light soulfulness that's rare in modern rock. Only on "I Know the Law" do we get one of Wye Oak's sparse late-night lamentations — it's at once heartbreaking and gorgeous.
This is the first album that Stack and Wasner composed entirely separately (originally from Baltimore, they now reside on separate coasts). Since 2011's excellent Civilian, Wasner also took up bass and launched a synth-pop side project called Dungeonesse. Those factors help explain Shriek's lack of guitar-centric songs and overall dance-y vibe. Consider this an incredibly tasteful disco album. (Merge)