Wye Oak, ‘Shriek’: A Bold Reinvention, Sans Guitar

Wye Oak's new album, 'Shriek,' is out on Merge. (Shervin Lainez/Courtesy of the artist)
Wye Oak’s new album, ‘Shriek,’ is out on Merge. (Shervin Lainez/Courtesy of the artist)

Let’s get this out of the way: There’s no guitar on this album. When Wye Oak revealed this tidbit last fall, many of us surely wondered what the Baltimore duo might even sound like without one of its most important elements. After all, the delight in Wye Oak’s music has always come from the interplay between Jenn Wasner’s blustery voice, her glorious cyclone of guitar riffs and screaming feedback, and skillful multi-tasker Andy Stack, who plays drums and keyboards — and on stage, simultaneously. But after the success of 2011’s Civilian, and countless tours performing within that “indie rock” format, it’s understandable that they’d feel restless and creatively blocked, and need to blow it up to start anew.

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Favorite Album Art Of 2011

I spend a lot of time listening to music throughout the year, making my lists of favorite records, the best songs and so on and on. But in the process I cannot help but look at and think about the album artwork and how that accompanies this music. Increasingly, in this digital age, album art is relegated often to postage stamp-sized icons on our screens and iPhones, already downsizing from the pretty small size of CDs. Maybe people do not think about album covers as much, yet I still love to stare over them like I did as a kid. And I still tend to buy albums in LP format because I like seeing that cover nice and big.

In lieu of a best albums of the year list, I decided to curate this list of my favorite album covers of the year. Below is but a sampling of some of the excellent artwork from 2011, some of which point to a few of the thematic trends in imagery, typography, illustration and intricacy.

Wye Oak, ‘Holy Holy’

At one point this spring I was probably listening to Wye Oak’s record Civilian multiple times a day every day. It was perhaps a bit much, but it speaks to how great these songs are and how stunning the band is. One of my favorite songs, especially live in concert, is “Holy Holy.” Check out the new video, directed by Jeremy Johnstone.

Wye Oak – Holy Holy from Merge Records on Vimeo.

Photo Gallery: Lower Dens, Wye Oak @ Black Cat

Last night at Black Cat, I caught two of my favorite bands right now: Wye Oak and Lower Dens. It was an full-on Baltimore showcase as all three bands on the bill come from the city that has in recent years become one of the most vibrant and creative music towns in the country. I had just recently caught Lower Dens a few weeks back at a house show, but it was great to see them on a larger stage, filling the room with their brooding wash of distortion.

Similarly, in the year since I last caught Wye Oak, the band has put out a stellar EP, My Neighbor, My Creator, and followed it up just this past week with their newest album Civilian. And all I can say is that they just keep getting better and better. For whatever reason, I had to convince a few friends that while the band might seem sedate and folky, they are an absolute force live. They bring a raw power and blustery energy to the songs thanks to the exceptional layers of blown out guitar distortion of Jenn Wasner and the simultaneously performed keyboards and thunderous drums of Andy Stack. I can easily say this double bill was one of the top shows I’ve seen this year so far.

I brought my camera along and pushed up to the front and took a few photos of both bands, plus the opener, Lands & Peoples. Here’s a sampling of the best shots:

You can listen to both sets from Wye Oak and Lower Dens at NPR Music.

Reblogging: NPR Linksplosion

Been awhile since I’ve dumped some links in for things I’ve done. Away we go…

— Song of the Day: School Of Seven Bells: A Spacey Dance-Pop Hymn

— All Songs Considered blog: Five Great Cover Songs From 2010 (So Far)

Jason Moran: Finding Sound, Then Making It His Own
— A Blog Supreme: More Moran Motion Pictures Please

Los Campesinos!: Tiny Desk Concert

Gogol Bordello: Tiny Desk Concert

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic: Tiny Desk Concert

— A Blog Supreme: Where Was The Jazz At Bonnaroo 2010?

NPR Music: Live From Bonnaroo webcast and coverage

The Mynabirds: Tiny Desk Concert

Zuill Bailey: Tiny Desk Concert

First Listen: Blitzen Trapper

Fredrik: Tiny Desk Concert

Broken Social Scene: Leaner Lineup, Same Big Sound

Reblogging Update: LCD Soundsystem, Broken Social Scene, more.

Here are a few recent pieces that have run elsewhere on NPR Music:

First Listen: LCD Soundsystem, ‘This Is Happening’

First Listen: Broken Social Scene, ‘Forgiveness Rock Record’

Make Music With Your (Wait For It) Shoes
A new ad campaign from Nike shows musicians making music with samples triggered from their kicks.

Regina Carter: Tiny Desk Concert
Edited the video for this one.

Jakob Dylan, Neko Case, Kelly Hogan: Tiny Desk Concert
Co-filmed and edited the video for this one.

Wye Oak: Tiny Desk Concert
Co-filmed and edited the video for this one.