Wye Oak: Shriek (City Slang)

Baltimore indie folk duo's accomplished follow up to 2011s acclaimed Civilian

Released Apr 28th, 2014 via City Slang / By Erick Mertz
Wye Oak: Shriek (City Slang) When my brother-in-law and his wife settled down in Baltimore four years ago, I had two somewhat related reactions: crab cakes and Wye Oak.

I would have unfettered access to each delicacy, foreign to me here on the West Coast. OK, it's fettered by more than three thousand miles, but I knew more of each was imminent. This revelation came in The Knot’s afterglow, the band’s keen coming of age statement. Since then, I’ve felt my interest increase with Civilian.

Needless to say, their newest record on Merge/City Slang only built on my anticipation. The production on Shriek is so, so good (thanks to Nicholas Vernhes who has also contributed stellar work to Marnie Stern and The War On Drugs). Cohesion is something of a surprising quality considering this was the first time in the band’s history when collaborators Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack lived outside of Baltimore. Now on opposite coasts, the band mates passed ideas back and forth.

Distances can create a rift for some bands; clearly not for Wye Oak though. The album’s opening track, “Before” is hypnotically intimate, as languid as a May afternoon daydream (before the abrupt ending). The spaced out title track feels similarly, Wasner’s vocals reeling back and forth through a colorful swirl of keys. If I’m particularly fond of any songs on Shriek, one is definitely “Glory” which possesses increased tension, as though the daydreamer has awoken, filled with the urge of something to do. With the fuzzy guitar lines on “The Tower” layered over urgent keyboards, I’m there, locked into what Wye Oak is offering.

There is a subtle songwriting motif on Shriek, one of those abrupt song endings, most startlingly displayed on “I Know The Law” a plain but emotionally riveting ballad that builds to a noisy anti-climax before falling calamitously apart. What Verhnes and the band are trying to accomplish here feels like a statement on incomplete relationship cycles, that regardless of build, the end comes sudden.

Some bands, as they further experimentation through an exploration of form, increase in intrigue; while others, they tend to either ebb or lay fallow. I’m not quite sure how the current LP fits into that equation.

If I was tracing Wye Oak’s career line with my finger (eyes closed) this record feels to me like the flat line after Civilian a record that proved an innovative landing for a band that searched for years for a suitable fusion of the amorphous indie-folk/indie-rock genre. Notice I said “flat line”. I’d line these two records up side by side as peers but it is always the second in that sequence which plays out as disappointing. Right?