London – Flock of Dimes, the solo project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, is a product of much love. You sense that her debut album, If You See Me, Say Yes, under this enigmatic moniker has been some time in the gestation, even if the final impetus was triggered by her move from her native Baltimore to Durham, North Carolina a year or so ago. The record appears very much inspired by her personal life and experiences. Songs capture those flashes of recognition that come from being caught between two worlds of the familiar and the unknown, between old and new. In such moments insights and creativity burst out.
The autobiographical nature of the album is underscored by the cover design which sees the artiste in her “Optic Interruption” jumpsuit with her back to us surrounded by a detritus of abstract objects, as if her life’s clutter is laid bare. The almost apologetic title If You See Me, Say Yes is duly hidden at the base of the cover in tiny red type. Yet the music, glitzy, synth-driven and hallmarked by Wasner’s glorious multi-tracked vocals, is wonderfully unrepentant. The album’s opening song is foreshortened to two gnomic lines (“Sometimes it is right to have no answer / To sit with myself and remember”) and then picked up again and resolved as the final of twelve tracks. Bookended in this way, “Sometimes It Is Right… To Have No Answer” sums up what Jenn Wasner is saying through her words and sumptuous music. The uncertainty of life and the sense of excitement and loss you get when moving away from the familiarity of home frame the record in a wholly organic manner.
En route, the stabbing keyboards and busy percussion on “Birthplace” echo the freneticism of travel, while Wasner’s contrastingly warm laid-back vocals contemplate distant friends and family. In common with all her songwriting, she drops in some telling metaphors: “We live in black and white, on a telephone pole.” She goes on to invoke the cycle of life in “The Joke” and the absurdity of it all, yet her joyful melody carries with it a loving sense of purpose.
While the songwriter dives quite deep into her psyche – “But I remain as fragile as I ever was” – her sentiments remain accessible. In the bright, shifting “Everything Is Happening Today,” she links the tangible feeling that comes when you perceive a sudden change of seasons to the memories that flood back in such fleeting moments. “Semaphore” carries the flag (literally!) for an old-fashioned means of communication used primarily on ships. It’s an odd image to contemplate in a digital age and seems to highlight Wasner’s inner concerns about her ability to express herself. This is such a contrastingly uplifting song though, in that it shows her real strength is to communicate through her music.
Less than halfway through the album, you wonder whether Wasner can maintain the high water mark the opening songs have left. She can, and she does. Whether it’s laying down a more conventional dance vibe in “Ida Glow” with its rock-out synth-driven ending, creating a gorgeous circular melody on “Given/Electric Life,” or welding a robotic spoken passage to the Japanese textured motif of “Minor Justice,” she delivers song after song, sustaining that standard.
As a reviewer, there is a constant temptation to label music and draw comparisons with other artistes. In the case of Flock of Dimes, such comparisons do not come easy. Jenn Wasner’s brand of synth-pop is no simple 80’s throwback; it has a much more contemporary edge to it. Her melodies are constantly fresh and pretty. Though machine polished, the programmed beats and layers are never overwrought. Her voice soars sweetly across all her material and her words resonate on both a simple and poetic level. In all, it’s a classic album in the making and telling.
If You See Me, Say Yes is out now and available to buy on iTunes. Flock of Dimes’ tour of the U.S. and Canada starts on 14th October and ends on 12th November in Austin, TX. Details are on the band’s Facebook page. Read our recent review of Flock Of Dimes’ East London performance HERE!
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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