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.
Flock Of Dimes is the name of Wasner’s solo project, although she incorporates contributions from others to help shape and consolidate the album. Head Of Roses is essentially her response to the break up of a relationship and the ensuing emotional repercussions. While such experiences have offered creative inspiration for countless musicians over the years, on Head Of Roses Wasner still manages to deliver an album that feels both highly individual and effective in what it tries to do. It also subtly extends the sense of musical reinvention which has been ongoing since the direction-pivoting Shriek.
An immediate reminder of her vocal prowess comes with opening track 2 Heads, showing how she’s able to tap into deep wells of emotion and conjure impactful, deceptively heavy moments from relatively minimalist means. Next, the gnarled, muscular guitar of Price Of Blue offers a suitably cathartic accompaniment to the overarching lyrical sentiment to the album. Two has a sharper and more delineated sound, but still manages to generate the characteristic momentum that crops up so often in her music. It’s one of many beautifully vulnerable moments, as she addresses the central theme of the album, openly asking herself “Can I be one? Can we be two? Can I be for myself? Still be still with you?”. The sad and abstract Hard Way follows, a transparent musical prism of tenderness and longing.
One initial impression gained from these opening four songs is that they feel quite placeable within a Wye Oak musical context, whether in terms of their core guitar sound or their synth-led update but as the album progresses it sees her open something of a new musical door and in the process adds to the sense of journey that Head Of Roses brings.
The first sign of something different comes with Walking which has a more markedly mellow, alt-country sound. One More Hour has shades of Emmylou Harris meanwhile as she once again questions herself and expresses regret (“I know there’s nothing for it but if I could have anything, I’d take one more hour”). Awake For The Sunrise is similarly disposed, featuring more in the way of lamenting sadness. For all of the personal ground they cover however, such tracks have a strongly relatable quality, backing up one of the key ideas that Wasner covered in our recent interview, namely how she wanted to make music that could soothe others as well as herself.
Elsewhere, Lightning is not too far removed from Laura Veirs at her most reflective (with the album in a broader sense sharing common ground with Veirs’ My Echo album from last year). On No Question it feels like she comes close to finding some small degree of resolution within its calm, blanketing softness. Similarly, the piano-led title track that closes the album exudes a sense of emotional aching but also edges towards some form of closure, putting the seal on a restorative and healing record. It feels like it draws a line under the wider experience of the album, allowing her to move forward on to whatever musical project comes next.