Perhaps it was inevitable that Wye Oak wouldn’t be the same after singer Jenn Wasner cracked open the dance-pop Pandora’s box with her other duo, Dungeonesse. Now, Wye Oak is a very different proposition: Wasner is still in Baltimore while Andy Stack recently settled in Marfa, Texas. On their fourth album, Shriek, they roll with the changes in their lives by accentuating them. For one, Wasner put down her guitars and switched to bass: In fact, aside from some growling feedback on “Paradise,” there are few of the guitars that previously situated Wye Oak somewhere between shoegaze and indie folk. In their place are far more keyboards, and although Stack still plays a drum set on most cuts, synthetics now typically trump organic sounds.
Dungeonesse, meanwhile, seems to have helped Wasner become a far more confident singer. On Shriek, her vocals are mixed front and center where they belong. The results liberate her — on the title track, listen how she smoothly she moves between soprano and alto notes, as if she gained an additional vocal register, as if she gave herself permission to leave behind the earthbound, everyday vocal affect of much indie rock and soar.
Despite its electronic emphasis, Shriek bypasses conventional synthpop for more introspective, individual territory. It’s the ballads here that truly shine, particularly “I Know the Law,” on which Stack establishes a rolling and clacking tom-tom rhythm before Wasser enters with quiet resolve. Her vocals climax in a wordless, sighing refrain before dissolving as the track gathers to a crescendo and then suddenly cuts out, like a fuse reaching its blowing point. It’s the only real shriek on the album, and it’s an effective one.