Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack are Wye Oak; a two piece from Baltimore, Maryland who have recently released their third album since changing their name from their previous moniker, Monarch in 2007. ‘Shriek’ is a departure from their noisy folk-influenced indie rock to a more moody, synth-driven sound; a fantastically mature and creative record which is set to be the band’s most successful record to date. Wasner has been open in interviews about how she nearly quit performing altogether, battling periods of depression and moving back to Baltimore to get some headspace. Until recently Stack had been based miles away in Portland, Oregon, making this record even more of a triumph over obstacles.
Tonight they are here in the Brudenell Social Club on their first UK tour since. Support comes from multi-instrumental soloist Bachelorette, whose pretentious electro ramblings do nothing to get the crowd on their feet. However, as soon as she is finished the floor begins to fill with fans eager to catch the two-piece in action. As Wye Oak take to the stage, Wasner thanks the crowd for ‘not getting drunk and watching the football’ (tonight is the opening night of the World Cup), and this modest, self-deprecating attitude is set to continue throughout.
They open with ‘Before’, an electro-based stomper with Stack playing both drums and keyboards (certainly no mean feat), and Wasner esuing her usual guitar for the bass. ‘The Tower’ follows next, getting gradually heavier with an intense breakdown at end, the repeating bassline driving the melody along. The next song is the title track from their new LP ‘Shriek’, a slower and reflective piece, and as with all their songs is introspective yet also captivating. Comparisons to fellow Baltimore duo Beach House have been drawn, but they couldn’t really be more different.
Wye Oak draw from their back catalogue next with two songs from Civilian: the first is ‘Holy Holy’, a slice of guitar driven country-folk with an Americana feel, followed by ‘Plains’ which takes a more mellow turn. They then launch into current single ‘Glory’, with its stiff yet funky bassline complemented by distorted keys. ‘Sick Talk’ showcases Wasner’s high vocal range, and is a perfect snippet of the bands new synth heavy sound.
“This one is an oddity” says Wasner before playing apparent fan favourite ‘Spiral’. Stack stands up from his kit to play guitar and the duo are perfectly in sync as they tackle to grungy melody. At this point Wasner comments on the chatty audience, inviting them to come up on stage and have a go themselves. It seems like her confidence may have been knocked, as she flusters over tuning her guitar, restarting next track ‘School of Eyes’ after the mistake. “At least I’m getting paid to embarrass myself up here” she jokes, and as the song begins again her husky, soulful vocals don’t betray any hint of nervousness.
A rogue heckler seems to throw them off their stride again, and Wasner explains how at one point she couldn’t see herself returning to making music, as she doesn’t see herself as ‘an entertainer’. Wye Oak’s music is full of raw emotion; and it’s obvious they have an urgent need to express this eloquently through their clever compositions rather than write catchy pop snippets. Wasner apologises again for any awkwardness in her stage presence. The apology is unnecessary as a roar of applause sweeps through the room, and she thanks Brudenell Social Club for being so welcoming.