Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack of Wye Oak have spent most of their lives in Baltimore, Maryland. But after two years of constant touring with Civilian, their highly lauded 2011 album, they landed on opposite sides of the country with an unforeseeable future ahead. Despite this newfound uncer- tainty, the two bandmates embraced their physical distance, passing ideas back and forth, allowing new work to evolve in their respective solitudes. Shriek is Wye Oak’s fourth full-length and the culmination of their intent to express the emotional and intuitive self by acting out animalistic excla- mations through cathartic release. It is their most personal and confident declaration yet.
Newly inspired by playing bass, Jenn took up songwriting in a setting where the guitar did not dictate harmonic bound- aries or require a call-and-response relationship with her voice, a hallmark of previous Wye Oak records. With her phrasing freed, now it is often Andy who interacts with Jenn’s vocals, playing syncopated and meditative keyboard parts, and the duo’s collaborative arrangements provide a back- drop in which both the arcs of melodies and the new rhythmic elements flourish. Here there is a new clarity in Jenn’s voice and a fervent resoluteness in Andy’s feel, and gone are the distorted guitar swells—in their stead are patterns, like mantras, of layered pianos and synths that meld the roles, and various instruments, of both players.
Wye Oak is immense. Like their thunderous live shows, in which they build up love, terror, and loss in one moment and then tear them down in the next, they have created a record that explores the personal struggle for peace—but within the instinctive, unconscious mind. If Civilian was the album that made mountains surge, oceans swell, and desert high plains ever more vast, then Shriek is the album that sounds the infinite depths of our inner space.