Flock of Dimes
It’s been a year since Jenn Wasner left Baltimore, where she grew up, where her family is, where she began playing music, where she started Wye Oak with Andy Stack and where she was a beloved and integral part of the community. “Baltimore, to me, is noise, and light, and excitement, and constant activity, and all the good and bad things that come along with that,” says Wasner, who also shared that Baltimore is overwhelming in the best and worst senses of that word. She was worried that it was eating her alive.
Now she lives in a brand new place: in a quiet house in the woods in North Carolina. And so, when you listen to her debut record as Flock of Dimes, If You See Me, Say Yes, think about how when she says yes to one thing, she's saying no to another. How this record is a kind of monument to those moments of being poised on the precipice, that feeling of diving into the new but at the same time looking back at what's left behind. When standing on an edge like that, both sides — what came before, what’s ahead — are in such sharp relief, and this record comes out of that intensity; from “Birthplace” to no place at all; from a deep history to a future in flux. Maybe that’s why so many of these songs are built around these ecstatic moments; when it feels like something is spilling open or breaking through, from the cosmic dance-dream of “Minor Justice” to the soaring reassurance of “Everything Is Happening Today.” Or “Semaphore,” a signal sent from a distance, an attempt to bridge the infinite space between two people (or two cities).
Flock of Dimes started out as an outlet for Wasner’s more experimental/electronic side and, following a string of 7” singles, this debut LP is the culmination of three years of rapid growth & exploration for her, physically, musically and psychologically. From the initial recording in Baltimore (with Mickey and Chris Freeland), to the process of refining and tweaking (alone and with friends in Durham, Brooklyn, and beyond), to the mixing in Dallas (with John Congleton), it’s the first record where Jenn has done almost everything — writing, playing, producing— by herself. She said that making this record on her own after having spent so much time making music in close collaboration was harder than expected, but also liberating. You can hear that in the songs, too — so many of them are about being lost, and being free.
Wasner frequently talks about the various competing versions of herself; the Jenn who tells herself that she's being self-indulgent, that she should be out saving the world (whatever that means); and also the workaholic Jenn who never wants the record to be done—who identifies with Arthur Russell, for whom declaring a song finished felt like a kind of death. But the songs on this record seem to come from another Jenn — the version of herself who “believes in magic, and love, and the mysteries of the universe and shit like that”. The Jenn who loves making songs more than anything.
“If You See Me, Say Yes” refers to the decision I’ve made to continue to share music with people” she explains of the album’s title. “I realized long ago that I will always make music—it’s such a crucial part of my life, and is the way that I process my experience and, hopefully, find peace. But the choice to share it is separate from that urge—and it comes down to feeling like the connection between people, even amongst strangers, is worth the risk. It’s about valuing beauty and connection over fear and alienation, and trying to live with an almost radical sort of vulnerability-- on all levels, at all times.”
And now we see her, with her most personal, considered & introspective work to date - an album where each track is as essential as the one before it & the one that follows - and we are most definitely, resolutely saying an unconditional yes.
This October, Madeline Kenney will release her sophomore album, Perfect Shapes — a wholly unexpected leap forward in both composition and musicality. The record was produced by Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Flock of Dimes) and reflects a deeply collaborative and introspective process, apparent both in arrangements and lyricism. Dealing with subjects of femininity, societal pressures, expectation, value and self-worth, Kenney stands tall in a moment of musical bravery and personal clarity.
The complex and open-ended questions that lay at the core of Perfect Shapes mark Kenney’s arrival into a hard-hitting reflective space: How do you love another when it hurts to do so? What is the physical limit to which one can carry the emotions of others? How does a modern female artist reckon with the expectations demanded of her femininity? Yet for all the notes of doubt and fear that Kenney raises, she delivers each song with confidence and poise, grounded by the pointedly laid and surging soundscape.
Kenney has always had a penchant for curiosity and experimentation. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, she began studying classical piano and dance in kindergarten, and grew to believe her future lay in modern dance choreography. Not one to be tied to a singular pursuit, however, Kenney took a hard left in college, studying Interpersonal Neurobiology and supporting herself with a career in baking. Music remained a constant however, and after moving to the Bay Area in 2013, Kenney quickly found footing in the supportive arts community in Oakland. There, she met and began collaborating with Chaz Bear (Toro Y Moi), which led to the production of her Signals EP and later her debut album, Night Night at the First Landing. Both releases were received with great critical acclaim, and saw Kenney exploring the sounds within her self-proclaimed twang-haze genre, defined by cathartic fuzz breakdowns and lyrical sensitivity.
Stephen Steinbrink was born in 1988 in a non-descript stucco hospital franchise adjacent to a Circle K in the ultra-conservative Phoenix suburb of Mesa, AZ. He grew up and learned to play guitar to deal. The majority of his teens and twenties were spent living an improvised and experimental existence, being nowhere and recording incessantly. His 8 LPs of pop songs have been released in Japan, Europe & North America, and has performed in dozens of countries around the world.