Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner Takes Her Electropop Seriously
Writing an unfussy love letter
As the singer and multi-instrumentalist for Baltimore duo Wye Oak, Jenn Wasner crafts beautiful, unpretentious songs about the small moments of joy and ruin familiar to anyone entangled in a romance. The music is arresting, existing somewhere between the murky rock of Joy Division and the slowcore work of Low. Over the past ten years, she's put out five such records with her bandmate, Andy Stack; her sixth is a solo effort under the name Flock of Dimes. If You See Me, Say Yes is a meditation on her current station in life, chronicled (as one might expect, given the Flock of Seagulls reference) in unironic electropop.
The album is both a product of its time and an homage to its forebears. "Everything Is Happening Today," with its spare jungle drums, sounds like the Cocteau Twins meeting up with Phil Collins. "Semaphore," a kindred spirit to Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again," sees the barest rhythmic pulse eked out from Wasner's gossamer melody. Occasionally she dives into unfettered fun: "Ida Glow" opts out of lyrical poignancy in favor of a late-Seventies dance feel, complete with a gurgling "OO-OO-oo-oo" synth effect that wouldn't be out of place on a Blue Swede or Village People track. Thanks to Wasner's clear understanding of these pop precepts, the album is flexible enough to support pragmatic reflections on adulthood ("And forgive me for my silence/I forget the follow-through/And any lie I ever told you was to seek a better truth") while remaining sweetly nostalgic.
If You See Me also owes much of its success to Wasner's voice, which Mickey Freeland's production treats as both part of the arrangements and the conduit through which everything flows. Her measured alto, which has just the slightest hint of grit, sounds like the voice of someone you love as they sing absentmindedly around the house. It gives power and grace to vastly different tracks: by pairing the aching vocals with clicky cymbals and staccato haunted-house synthesizers, "Flight" becomes moving in the manner of the best Nineties pop radio, taking on stray instrumental passages as it heads toward its climax. Later, on "...To Have No Answer," a choir of reverbed melodies blends with dreamy keyboards and radio news snippets that crackle in the background, with Wasner's succinct lyrics dipping into and out of the chaos.
While this project overlaps somewhat with Wasner's other music — besides Wye Oak, she's been part of dancepop act Dungeonesse — Flock of Dimes lacks the combustion or ratcheted-up drama of both those groups. In letting the songs be less dynamic, or rather, by letting the dynamics come from the natural direction of the songs, Wasner manages to be engaging without massive choral hooks, dialed-up drum parts, or any of the other typical ingredients of a pop song. Here, on her own, she revels in her ability not to take herself too seriously, to be unapologetic about wanting to create joy. If You See Me, Say Yes isn't good because it's innovative or edgy, but because it's an unfussy love letter to Eighties and Nineties electropop, filtered through the sly emotional lens of a genuine and perceptive fan.
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