One of our favorite musical duos—Wye Oak—is set to release their fourth full-length album at month’s end and, at first listen, some of the change experienced by the two band members seems to be seeping into their style in slightly unexpected but not-at-all unwelcome ways.
I write ‘slightly’ unexpected because, the last time we caught the band live, as part of Prospect Park’s Celebrate Brooklyn series, they introduced a song with pre-recorded drums, (usual) drummer, Andy Stack, on keys, and front woman, Jenn Wasner on live bass as them “trying something new”.
Originally both based in Baltimore, Maryland, Stack moved to Portland and then Texas after the success of their prior album, Civilian, in 2011. That emotional space is audible in the music + song-writing and seems to give them what comes across as a natural place to which to evolve the band.
Indeed, up until now, the band’s relied on Wasner’s heavy guitar, beautifully dusky vocals, and great song-writing. The heavy reliance on the wash of the guitar both stylistically and as a base for the musical structure is nearly absent. But the latter two all-important aspects of the band’s sound—Jenn’s voice and writing—remain strong and, in places, shine even brighter than before. Having largely ditched the guitars, beautifully complex, syncopated rhythms on piano, keyboard, and bass provide a newly streamlined, cleaner platform to showcase the band’s most essential strengths.
It reminds me of a successful version of the change in sound for another long-time favorite band, Ra Ra Riot, who made a similar shift to a stark—though admittedly more poppy—electronic base with their last album, Beta Love. But, whereas that change seemed to sap the life out of the band, it only seems to have invigorated Wye Oak, turning the focus of the spotlight where it should be for them: the sincerity and emotion of the song-writing.
All that serves to say: Give it a listen. NPR currently has a full stream of the album, entitled Shriek, and you can watch the video for one of the many stand-out tracks, “The Tower”, below. The album’s available for pre-order via Merge records + iTunes.