Wye Oak’s ‘Shriek’ falls flat on first listen, but then grows

Don’t always trust a first impression — even if it’s the right impression.

A friend first told me about Wye Oak a few months ago before we were to see them open for Future Islands on a trip to Chattanooga, Tenn. He called them a folk band and compared them to Fleet Foxes — a positive description for me, but not for him.

I didn’t listen to Wye Oak ahead of the show, but their music hooked me faster than any live band I hadn’t heard before a show — even though the folk description was inaccurate.

The duo of Jenn Wasner on bass and guitar and Andy Stack on drums and keyboards produced a full, lush sound as good as any duo I’ve heard live or recorded.

I was giddy for their newest album, which they referenced on stage. After the concert, I went trying to buy it only to learn it was months away. I settled for buying their third studio album, “Civilian,” directly from Stack.

Despite a great live show, and my excitement meeting Stack and standing next to Wasner in the crowd, “Civilian” didn’t hook me with the same fervor of the live show.

When I finally listened to their latest “Shriek,” I expected the same instant gratification of the concert — but I didn’t receive it.

The album was underwhelming at first listen, but my enthusiasm for this music returned after a few listens.

As an album, Wye Oak’s “Shriek” sounds a bit like rediscovery, which is fitting since Wasner wrote several of the songs after writers block on the guitar pushed her to the bass and other instruments.

Stack also started playing more synthesizers on the new album. For two musicians exploring new instruments, the music shows remarkable constraint.

The songs are tempered and ruminate around a thick atmosphere created by Stack’s keyboards, synthesizers and drums, and Wasner’s introspective and somewhat poetic vocals and her bass lines.

“The Tower” is perhaps the catchiest song on the album, with Wasner’s distorted vocals blending perfectly with the keyboard and bass lines. Like so many of the songs, the music feels wound and ready to burst free, but it never explodes in excessive climaxes — which is a good thing.

Rather than turning feverish and overbearing like many indie bands, Wye Oak remains lush, vibrant and relaxed. It’s music to rock your head back and forth to.

The trend continues on tracks like “Glory” and “School of Eyes,” but the album loses a little steam over the final few tracks.

“Shriek”

By Wye Oak

4 out of 5 stars

Track listing

1. Before

2. Shriek

3. The Tower

4. Glory

5. Sick Talk

6. School of Eyes

7. Despicable Animal

8. Paradise

9. I Know the Law

10. Logic of Color

 Other Listens

“Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space”

By Jim James

“Regions of Light and Sound of God” by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James remains one of my favorite albums I’ve written about in this column. It always seems to be a perfect fit for this season, as winter gives way to spring and summer.

James takes a little darker, more introspective approach than his MMJ catalog. But, the album is a lot about rebirth and moving forward after dark days (I suppose that’s fitting after this winter).

Key tracks: “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” “Know Til Now,” “A New Life” and “Of the Mother Again.”

 

 

 

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