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Wye Oak couldn't have picked a trickier time to change direction. After releasing their third album, Civilian, in 2011 the Baltimore duo's career took off in a way it never had before. It took Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner to places they never thought they'd get to see, earned them spots on album of year lists, an appearance on late night TV, and features on multiple indie film and TV soundtracks. While we're not exactly talking hot tubs and private jets, for a guitar-lead Indie duo from Baltimore it's about as close to superstardom as they were ever going to get.

Those recent successes must have been in two musicians' minds when they started work on Civilian's follow-up, their first album to be anticipated by a significant amount of people. But when they got back from tour and starting throwing song ideas around, Wasner realised she was completely sick of playing guitar, and decided to do something radical and close her guitar case for good.

As a guitarist, Jenn Wasner was held in high regard. Almost every review of Civilian, The Knot, and If Children were built around praise for her extraordinary talents. They were undeniable not just a vital part of their sound, but a vital part of their song structure. Their songs always had a clear progression to them, starting with some subtle and clean chords before Wasner would seize them with some shredded burst of frisson-inducing distortion. Think back to the climatic solos of 'Civilian' and 'For Prayer', or to 'Holy Holy', which doesn't hold back and takes their sound to its extreme to make for Wye Oak's best single to date. Without those frenetic crescendos, those songs would be nothing.

Stack and Wasner would pick a singular emotion and tone for a song, and ride it to a stormy release. How they were going to do that without their six-stringed-trigger was the number one question going into Shriek, but the band's fans didn't seem to be in despair for a second when the drastic change in direction was announced. And that's because Wasner have proven her talent and musical diversity with a strong series of solo singles, released under the name Flock of Dimes, and as member of Dungeonesse, her full-blown-pop/R&B duo with her friend John Ehrens who put out a self-titled full length last year.

People had faith Wye Oak could pull it off. Especially when viewed in light of claims that this directional decision was the only way they could stay true to themselves after they found themselves thousands of miles apart, emailing demos and idea back and forth to different cities after Stack left their native Baltimore for Portland and then Austin.

Unsurprisingly, the Wye Oak we get on Shriek is entirely different to the one we got on Civilian. Their earthy, guitar heavy sound has been replaced by swelling electronics and plunking bass patterns. Their new direction is similar to that of their friends and fellow Baltimoreans, Lower Dens, only poppier. They pick a single idea for a song and ride with it until it fades into muted bliss, plodding along with swirling syncopation and pretty keyboard mantras. The format makes for enjoyable enough songs but it's hard not to wish songs with verses as good as 'Before' and 'Sick Talk' didn't stall in their final moments.

Although the inspiration for the majority of the album's songs came from Wasner's newfound love of playing bass, the four-stringed instrument doesn't serve anything close to the same purpose within Wye Oak's music. In their older work, the sound of Wasner's voice and guitar were inextricably connected, but now she lets her grooves float free, and her voice emanate as just another part of a grander soundscape. As a result, the album's ten tracks make for a gorgeous haze, but they never quite seem to form into something tangible.

While it's certainly the element that's going to piss off a few of their older fans, the bass sound is hard to call intrusive, because nothing in their new sound really is. And that's the most clear audible evidence of Stack and Wasner's geographical separation, the songs sound as if they were made and works shopped in a theoretical space rather than a real one, it's a freeing far cry from the rootsy stomp of Civilian.

Shriek is at its best when it can find an anchor point as arresting as Wasner's guitar, sometimes the duo turn to their new bass sound to do that, such as the disco-tinged swagger and lightness of 'Glory', and while the bass is a positive that generally lends a fresh new edge to their music, it's also responsible for a handful of regrettable moments , like the Final Fantasy boss battle-esque basslines of 'Paradise'.

Wye Oak's strengths still lie within their melodies, and their new ones work on an almost subconscious level, in that they're meditative and perfectly in tune with the album's disorientated and displaced lyrics. It's this talent that makes 'Logic of Color', a stripped back ballad that exists in at least four dimensions, one of the year's best album closers, and 'The Tower' seem poised to achieve the same degree of soundtrack success as 'Civilian'.

While it inarguably takes guts to reinvent yourself ahead of your most anticipated release, Wye Oak sound a little too comfortable with the change, and it sounds lived in despite its newness. This album is more of a reset than a reinvention, ditching the guitar was meant to make or break them, but it's kind of done neither. Where Civilian was the sound of band perfecting something they'd been working on for years, Shriek is the sound of a band starting that journey anew.

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