Wye Oak @ Islington Assembly Hall, London 10.06.14

Baltimore’s Wye Oak must be firm believers in the ‘too many cooks..’ school of thought.

Jun 10th, 2014 at Islington Assembly Hall, London / By Lewie Peckham
Wye Oak @ Islington Assembly Hall, London 10.06.14 Onstage at the Islington Assembly Hall tonight there are an assortment of guitars, various pedals and synthesizers onstage. You might be fooled into thinking that the duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have branched out and incorporated more members into Wye Oak to help bring the electronic buzz of newest album Shriek to life. Where on previous albums their moody, dream-pop was given life with the washes of Wasner’s guitar swirling around that sublime voice that made 2011’s Civilian such a dark and engrossing listen, the new album is a homage to the 80’s synth-pop that reveals itself to be a formative influence on the duo. Just as John Grant's Pale Green Ghosts showed its Pet Shop Boys influence as an autobiographical guide to the singers adolescence, Shriek channels such influences as Roxy Music and, maybe even a better comparison, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart's work as 80's pop legends Eurythmics (another band who incorporated ethereal vocals over stark, slow building electronic pop).

Whist tonight shows what talented and formidable musicians Wasner and Stack are (the sticksman effortlessly playing keyboards whilst drumming) it also shows how glaringly different songs from older albums sit with the newer material on Shriek. Moving from the clipped, syncopated bass-lines of openers ‘Before’ and the new album’s title track to the gloomy open chords of ‘Holy Holy’ can make for a disjointed set as the buzz of synthesizers on newer tracks wrestle with the noise of Civilian's past.

That being said tonight reaffirms what Shriek told us, that Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack are two of the most talented musicians of their musical peers. In Stack you have a musically adept drummer, capable of adding synths whilst at the same time keeping time. He even switches to bass at one point allowing Wasner to wring out shards of glorious noise from her guitar. If Jenn Wasner is responsible for the beautiful songs and the jaw-dropping voice that flows over them then Andy Stack is the glue that holds the whole thing together, a one man rhythm section.

Wye Oaks encore on a trio of perfect set-closers. Their cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ (which can be found as part of The AV Club’s most recent Undercover series) is a thundering homage to the original and you can tell that Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack will never tire of playing that melody and pulsating bass-line. After an awesome rendition of Civilian's title track Stack leaves the stage and Jenn Wasner is left alone to play ‘Doubt’ solo. Hearing those opening notes ringing out as Wasner’s swooning voice circles around the minimal beauty of ‘Doubt’ ends the night perfectly and to a rapturous and well deserved applause.

Tonight Wye Oak admirably take on the noise of a full band as a duo and you can’t help but be won over by the pair’s desire to control every single brilliant note played onstage.