You suspect Jenn Wasner’s hometown roots run deep. Born there, lived and worked there. Wye Oak – her principle artistic vehicle and bread-and-butter for the last eight years or so – was formed there. You suspect, also, that a move from Baltimore to rural North Carolina involves quite some shift in pace, in tone, in intensity (the city, she says, was “eating her alive”). But as much as If You See Me, Say Yes — Wasner’s first record as Flock of Dimes — is informed by this relocation, it is about neither point of departure nor destination. Instead, it reads as a record about changing relationships with people and with place, the flux and the limbo experienced in a world whose dimensions are increasingly unknown to us. Shrinking as we become more mobile, growing with the increased distances that separate us from the spaces we know best.
Flock of Dimes is a less gritty project than Wye Oak, seemingly borne of a process of multi-tracking rather than recorded with others in a room. A kind of synth-pop, almost. But the synthetic nature of this music (drum machines, glossed synths, Wasner’s guitar processed and shimmering) is played off against the warmth of Wasner’s voice, disarming and effortless, to fantastic effect. And when she leans into her melodic sensibility—languid, melismatic, free—the record really hits stride. The tidal contours of ‘Semaphore’, the melismatic extension of the word ‘minor’ on ‘Minor Justice’ (among the record’s best songs) so that it seems eternal, endless. The compound triple time of ‘Birthplace’, in particular, lets Wasner’s vocals slip merrily over the top of the drums and bass, moon boots that keep the song tethered to the ground.
It’s in these playful, meandering melodies that the record’s themes start to emerge. On ‘Everything that Happens’, Wasner continues to untangle that muddle of people and place: “so if here is really there and you are really mine…”. ‘Given/Electric Life’ addresses that attempt to escape the city’s clutches: “I’m running aways to start counting days”. On ‘Semaphore’, Wasner contemplates the comfort she seeks in her new surroundings: “I can tie my own laces/find the solace I seek in other places”. It captures, albeit in big, broad strokes, that moment between the familiar and the new; in the words of Rachel Monroe it is “a kind of monument to those moments when you’re poised on the precipice, that feeling of diving into the new but at the same time looking back at what you’ve left behind.”
These are familiar themes to many, but maybe they represent a particular pressure point for a touring musician. Time spent on the road is time spent perpetually baseless, after all. And Wye Oak have certainly spent some time on the road: 305,690 miles across the history of the band, according to big data wizards Songkick. But on If You See Me, Say Yes, it seems those miles have ensured one thing, at least: the musician may be uprooted, but Wasner’s soaring voice and knack for melody remain intact no matter the surroundings. An endearing, very likeable record indeed, and a confident first entry under the Flock of Dimes handle.
8Sam Cleeve's Score