Bad Blake: (Lying in bed strumming his guitar) “You know that song? Hmmm?”
Jean: “I can’t remember who did it.”
Bad Blake: “That’s the way it is with good ones, you’re sure you’ve heard them before.”
Thus spoke Jeff Bridges in his Oscar-nominated role as country singer Bad Blake, and it rings true to T. Bone Burnett’s folk tune, as much as it does to some of Wye Oak‘s back catalogue.
2009’s ‘The Knot’, although often overlooked, can give you the feeling that you must have – so pure as they were – already been introduced to these songs. See Take It In for a glimpse at a real gem.
2011’s ‘Civilian’ often gets the brunt of the praise, thanks predominantly to the titular track featuring in The Walking Dead, among other television series. That said, it failed to capture the simple talent of its predecessor.
Then comes 2014 and ‘Shriek’. While Wilhelm’s Scream may be the first image to mind, or something equally demented, the album’s artwork will quickly change your mind – the boy pulling as demonic a face as possible offers a more playful insight into dark ideas; apt for the album’s sound.
The band moves away from its tried-and-tested simple guitar sensuality and here tries for something bolder – a bouncier bass line provides the foundation for synth layers and loops. It’s great to witness the pair pull it off live also; the time signature crossovers when the bass overlaps the synth loops work to extraordinary effect, and – not for the first time – it’s surprising to know that Wye Oak are a band of two.
Many tracks tread the catchy-meets-experimental line of St. Vincent, although often in an A-B format, whereas Annie Clark might often find a C, D, or E to distract her from something more formulaic.
The titular track may just be their most endearing tune; a piano line with a soft sweetness that flowers with a vocal line that could easily suit the likes of Emily Haines.
It remains incredible what this Maryland two-piece – from whose state tree they took their name – can do. Jenn Wasner plays the guitar (or in this case, bass) and sings, while Andy Stack plays the drums with his feet and right hand, and synths with his left. Some feat.
Stack has outdone himself here, controlling the vast majority of the synth action, and from viewing live performances of the duo there is no let down from the promise that the record suggests. Regardless of whether Wasner is on guitar or bass, he continues to find room to sway between her lines and the two seem to play off the other’s style and sensibilities naturally.
While Shriek mightn’t hit you like an instant classic, it’s a real grower and a solid showcase of Wye Oak’s ability to stay on the right track while changing up their vehicle.