As one half of Wye Oak for the last 13 years or so, Jenn Wasner has developed into a songwriter and vocalist of note, releasing albums that have been both deeply engaging and often hard-hitting. Over time they've outgrown their guitar-based roots that they honed so well on 2011's Civilian, venturing into a refreshing synth-based sound on 2014's Shriek before merging the best of both worlds on 2018's The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs. The consistent factor in all of these albums has been the starkly emotive quality they have projected, largely due to the way Wasner's powerful vocals rise out of the surrounding musical environment and form unbreakable connections with the listener.
At the start of the pandemic, Jenn Wasner found herself contending with a solitude she hadn't expected. The self-described workaholic had long participated in the capitalistic churn that equates productivity with worth: In the years since her debut album as Flock of Dimes, 2016's If You See Me, Say Yes, she'd recorded and released two albums with her band Wye Oak; toured as part of Bon Iver; and written a solo EP, 2020's Like So Much Desire, among other pursuits. Absent any tour or project to distract her, and still processing a recent heartbreak, her choices felt hollow.
Maturity isn't a particularly exciting word; neither are introspection and accountability for that matter, but Head of Roses--Jenn Wasner's second full-length album as Flock of Dimes--is colored by those elevated hues. Most of the songs here were written in the aftermath of the dissolution of a relationship. While not a unique topic, Wasner's approach jettisons the rawness and anger in favor of a more reflective and spiritual approach as the album progresses.
"How can I explain myself / I have two heads inside my mouth" Wasner laments - setting out the theme of duplicity with the opening lines of "Two Heads" - sitting amongst a swirling rush of blinks and bleeps and highly affected vocals, all dancing without orientation. She continues the idea of identity (or lack of it) on "Two", a bright moment that fills the air with blooming synths, fresh enough to be used as a plug-in fragrance diffuser while positing "We're all just wearing bodies / like a costume until we die", and utterly laying bare the incompleteness of her soul. On "Walking", Wasner more than alludes to the tug of war between heart and head stating, "I want the lightning / but I can't live like that".
Head of Roses by Flock of Dimes Photo by Graham Tolbert Anyone familiar with Wye Oak will know that Jenn Wasner has a remarkable voice. With a rich, honeyed twang in her lower registers and a fluttery, hummingbird breathiness in her upper range, Wasner's voice can swoop confidently or crack with fragility, touching upon both pulse-quickening joy and deep reservoirs of pain within a single phrase. Though Head of Roses, her second album under solo moniker Flock of Dimes, is supposedly a heartbreak record, it's far from a downer.