Monday, April 21, 2014

Wye Oak - Shriek (2014)

"This morning I woke up on the floor, thinking I had never dreamed before"

It's no coincidence that Baltimore indie rock duo Wye Oak begin the latest chapter of their musical careers with a song like "Before", a dreamy musical tapestry on one hand, a series of concrete affirmations on the other. "Before" functions as the perfect introduction to Shriek, a gently rousing reverie instead of a bestial roar. Jenn Wasner's vocals perfectly capture the spectrum of emotions of starting over: the dizzying trepidation of uncertainty, the glimmering hopefulness of possibility. No one side wins out, balanced effortlessly in Wasner's lyrical ellipses and the push and pull of the duo's musical interplay.

The so-called guitarless Wye Oak record arrives with a surprising amount of propriety, its melodies aloft on a stable though intricate base; a work of a staggering amount of subtlety. It isn't until four songs in on the practically dancefloor ready synth-laden "Glory" that Shriek offers up any obvious signs of friction. Casting off the otherworldly pall that's shrouded the preceding tracks - Wasner and Stack are united in their syncopated, aggressive jump into pop. The duo glide into it but once there, make themselves fully comfortable and content to stay there for much of the album's duration. "Paradise" puts an end to Shriek's accessible forward momentum with a literal wall of sound - sending everything pitched forward sprawl and skidding to a halt before its establishing its own breakneck tempo. Tender ballad "I Know the Law" arrives at the most unexpected an moments and perhaps gains some of its power due to that -sandwiched between the blistering "Paradise" and synth-heavy album ender "The Logic of Color". On the album's most expansive track, Wasner's given full license to soar, arming herself with raw emotive power.

Shriek is a hymn not only to uncertainty but the empowerment gained from facing it head on. Underneath the heady toe-tapping synth lines, Wasner turns her lyricism inward and the resulting introspection is dazzling in its lucidity. Taking years of familiarity Wasner and Stack are able to validate a leap of faith by offering the model of thoughtful reinvention anchored by the duo's complementary nature. Shriek also triumphs through its exploration of different synth tones throughout the whole. Enabling its inclusion and predominant usage to avoid that of an overused parlor trick, and instead providing a varying set of timbric elements to revel in. The result is an album that's svelte and interesting, clean but full of a wealth of musical ideas impressively shuffled.

Shriek, Wye Oak's fourth full length, is out April 29th on Merge Records. Stream via NPR First Listen.

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