When I first heard that Wye Oak was dropping the guitars from their new album, I was in #smfh mode. For a band that’s literally made up of just a guitarist (Jenn Wasner) and a drummer (Andy Stack), taking away half of that seemed really drastic. I thought to myself, this could either be really cool or really REALLY disappointing. I’m sad to say, Shriek is the latter.
It’s not like they haven’t incorporated synthetic sounds into their music before. Take the song “Spiral” for instance, which they released as part of Adult Swim’s singles program. A slow-burner built around programmed drums and swirling guitars, “Spiral” was a happy marriage of the band’s signature, sludgy Americana-folk with a new electronic direction (it also helped that the song was actually, you know, good). On Shriek, none of that chemistry between the old and new can be found.
The guitars are completely gone, leaving Wasner and Stack vulnerable. It’s an admirable decision, but the thing about Wye Oak that I always liked was the way Wasner and Stack fed off of each other. Wasner’s guitar and Stack’s strong percussion went hand in hand, which in turn controlled the passion and feel of their past songs like “Holy Holy” or “Siamese”. Now that the guitars have been completely dropped for synths, Wye Oak can’t make up for that missing element, and thus the songs on Shriek now come across as aimless and weak. Hell, at times they even sound like HAIM on a heavy dose of codeine, which I never would’ve expected to say about Wye Oak. Honestly, it’s hard for me to pick out a highlight from Shriek; it’s that bland.
My favorite Wye Oak album is The Knot, which was gentle, sensitive, and real. The noise Wasner and Stack on that album felt so organic and lively. On Shriek, that energy is gone, and it’s disappointing. However, having said all this, I’m willing to chalk it up as a necessary sidestep for a band that is maybe finding its way to a new muse. You can’t grow without the pains, and maybe Wye Oak is in the middle of just that.