It’s full of synth and the serenade of Jenn Wasner’s lightly computerised vocals, at times intense in its rhythms whilst sharing expressions of joy only as a keyboard can at others. Shriek is the third album from the duo operating under the guise of Wye Oak, a pair from America who released this record in the tail end of 2014. If ever there were a contemporary band making synth pop look good again, it’s this one.
Throughout the album there’s a seriousness in the crafting of the songs – take the single, Glory, as the example and give it a listen. The verses are suave, sophisticated, but the emotion of the song spills out in the choruses, as it rightly should, and you’re whisked into the soundscape of something that feels just that little bit more important than the other choice.
The title track itself is one of my picks of the bunch, a complete contrast to the heavy atmosphere of Glory, this song glides through with silken piano and a rolling drumline that gives it movement. Accompanying this all the while is the impassioned, throaty vocals of Ms Wasner, the whole lot working together to produce what is quite a unique track. There is a brief moment where it gets weird with the synth, but that’s just a prelude to another bold chorus.
In fairness to this group, you shouldn’t assume from my repeated mentioning of the synth that they’re solely reliant on this as their means for making music; that would be an unfair generalisation, especially when you consider how their combination of “traditional” instruments and those more of a digital persuasion works this well. Sick Talk is a song that is as many parts synth as it is bass, the two playing off each other and creating a sound that is surprisingly filling.
Arguably one of the songs that blur the lines of genre, Schools of Eyes is one of my favourites off this record – it shuffles along with a compelling rhythm but accompanied by the other two components of this band’s sound, and yet it somehow feels like it can’t be branded the same as the other songs on this album. It has a real sense of individuality, which might sound like something pretentious to say about a song, but it really does have the feel of something that is noticeably a cut above the rest because of the fact that it doesn’t seem to want to be any one thing in particular (and it doesn’t suffer for that).
Personally, I’m a fan of bands that are comprised of duos – The White Stripes will forever be one of my favourite groups, Slow Club were high on my list until their last record, and now Wye Oak have served to reaffirm this. The whole album aside, there’s one song that really stood out and it’s a song that I believe, when seen live, has the potential to stop folks in their tracks. That song would be Paradise, a song found toward the end of the record, that seems to be an exception to the format of the other tracks in that there’s a noticeable lack of anything electronic.
Shriek is a record that manages to mark itself as noticeable in a genre that often drowns out the very quality that makes it great: difference. That said, it would be wholly unjustified to try and label this band or this record as belonging to one particular style, their difference is what sets them apart and this album only serves as a reminder to that. In comparison to their previous release, the two are poles apart and yet there’s no compromise on the quality in the music. Always a welcome sight.