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Flock of Dimes: Head of Roses

Jenn Wasner’s music sneaks up on you. Her new Flock of Dimes album, Head of Roses, comes from places you’d never expect and goes on journeys you’d never imagine. Born out of the pain of an ended relationship, the album also deals with the notion that, while we may suffer, we are also the source of suffering for someone else. If one expects to be forgiven for bad choices, the expectation is that one has to forgive others as well.

Despite being a producer both in her own right and with Wye Oak, she focused on her agonized songwriting here, tapping Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso to produce. She also brought in quarantine collaborators Meg Duffy, Matt McCaughan, Andy Stack and Adam Schatz. Outlining the essential problem on “2 Heads,” while a bed of keyboards and synths whirl away, a double-tracked Wasner sings, “How can I explain myself/ I have two heads inside my mouth.” The fuzzed-out guitar that enters full frame at the opening of “Price of Blue” makes things even clearer: while the relationship is over the pain seems almost infinite, “I’m waking up from a dream/ I can feel but I can’t see/ I’m suffocating the spark/ Of divine you made in me.” The song ends much the way it opened, with Wasner firing out lacerating, fuzz-fueled volleys.

Even before the amped-up power plays out, the listener realizes the quest to find healing is both more challenging and more rewarding than acting out in malice. One of the problems with the pandemic has been that many folks have been forced to sit with unresolved feelings. It’s no different for Wasner, who told The New York Times, “There was nothing to do but sit with my pain and myself. I was so grateful to be able to turn to making music, because it was one of the last remaining things available, as a source of comfort for me.”

By the time we reach “Walking,” a new vision takes hold. The guitar is much softer, the keyboard simply coloring the scene rather than taking over, and there seems to be more of a sense of ease and contentment as she sings, “Alone again, alone again/ My time it is my own again.” While the arrangements towards the end of the album tend to be simpler, Wasner hasn’t completely abandoned her more cerebral tendencies, which led Duffy to tell The New York Times that sometimes Wasner seems like she’s “doing algebra while doing ballet.”

One aspect that makes Head of Roses so interesting is the variety of different styles at play. “Lightning” offers little more than Wasner and her guitar, yet there’s so much going on. Her voice is clear and unadorned, yet also haunted: “I found out/ Freedom is empty/ When it’s all you have.” Her yearning tears at your heart. Yet the process of coming out on the other side of a relationship also has benefits, preparing the listener for what comes next and helping us understand that everything doesn’t have to be traumatic.

Listening to Flock of Dimes, there’s the feeling that we aren’t just listening to a musician as much as we are listening to a place in time set to music. In doing so, Head of Roses is a moment of mindfulness from which we all can learn.

From isolation to clarity, getting past the pain of endings.
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Bending, Blending, Mending

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