CD of the Month: Flock of Dimes - "Head of Roses"
The number of musicians whose lives came to a startling halt in March of 2020 is staggering. Artists around the world began to pick themselves up from the rubble as time rolled on, using their creative assets as the helping hand to move forward. For Jenn Wasner, the woman behind Flock of Dimes, 2020 was certainly a year where the rug was suddenly ripped away, as the onset of the pandemic was compounded with sudden heartbreak. Musical history is filled with songwriters who made revelatory work in the wake of emotionally turbulent times, and the latest album from Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses, is a fine addition to that canon.
Wasner, who is also one half of the duo Wye Oak, is a musician dedicated to her work, and making a lot of it. When not recording for her own projects, she’s contributing to albums from a laundry list of bands across the eastern US, and hitting the road in the rosters of touring bands behind acts like Bon Iver and Sylvan Esso. (I highly suggest a stroll through her Discogs credits page to see where you may have heard her before). Those connections all circle back for her second solo album, with members of the above bands plus Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy and Landlady’s Adam Schatz all joining the crew. A host of friendly collaborators and a wealth of time to think and write created a musical watershed for Wasner, who covers many bases on her new album. Opener “Two Heads” has echoes of Imogen Heap’s layered vocoder lyrics, with Wasner’s voice enveloped by chorus, and supported by synthesizers and cello. Another early highlight is the psych-tinged “Price of Blue,” which easily wins out for best guitar tones on the album, the strings crunching and swaying alongside the song’s swooning vocals. An album so steeped in heavy emotions could easily become boxed in or closed off, like a response to the trauma, but the sounds of Wasner and company sprawl and expand, creating a musical warmth even when the lyrics get dark. The soaring vocals tie the album together across its array of styles, from the pensive ballads like Lightning and No Question filling up the album’s second half, to another early standout track, the deceivingly-upbeat “Two,” masking it’s introspection with springy synths and a propulsive brushed drum beat.
When the events of 2020 and 2021 are finally fading into the rearview mirror, we’ll inevitably have a vast collection of art made from artists processing what happened, from the global perspective to their personal struggles. In the sea of those works, I highly recommend plucking Head of Roses free. Jenn Wasner’s Flock of Dimes has crafted a soul-baring album that stands as a testament to the power of working through hard times, and bringing your community in close to help you do it.
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