Flock of Dimes: Head of Roses | Sub Pop; Apr. 2

This past year, the indie-pop-rocker Jenn Wasner has grown to learn how to harness her stake in personal and global happenings, with a clear understanding of the weight of her hand—and her responsibility in—both.

Over the past decade, Wasner has carved out a sonic space for herself, honing her craft as a roots musician and becoming a beacon among North Carolina’s highly dynamic music community. A founding frontwoman of renowned duo Wye Oak, a frequent collaborator in the local music scene, and touring member of groups like Sylvan Esso and Bon Iver, she also finds her work as a solo artist uniquely fulfilling.

Head of Roses, out April 2 on Sub Pop, is her sophomore full-length release as solo act Flock of Dimes. The veteran indie artist follows her first full-length release as Flock of Dimes—2016’s serene If You See Me; Say Yes—with a book of breakup songs. The album highlights duality: the push and pull of action and reaction, and the rippling implications of it all. The songs, written during a global pandemic and social justice reckoning, evolved into a less subjective message about healing; in 2021, that message resonates in an expansive way.

“I feel called to give back to the world,” Wasner says over the phone, one morning in March. “But I can’t do that if I’m too consumed with my own pain. It has to start with understanding yourself, compassion for your pain. In healing, you create space to give back to the world in very meaningful ways.”

Wasner always considered herself to be “in touch” with her emotions. By the end of working on Head of Roses, though, she’d come to understand that there was a fundamental disconnect that benumbed her in the presence of inner turmoil.

“I come from a somewhat unstable upbringing—mental illness, drug addiction,” says Wasner, a native of Baltimore, Maryland. “Pretty much all of us were operating in survival mode. Everyone contends with that differently, but the outside world became a huge ecosystem of distraction from that core of suffering.”

Wasner’s second step into Flock of Dimes chronicles her clouded path through a breakup that cruelly coincided with the pandemic. Despite efforts to mentally immerse herself elsewhere, 2020 stripped Wasner of almost every defense mechanism, leaving her vulnerable to her double-edged heartbreak. Having fled from one relationship for another that failed, she was both the recipient and source of pain in a situation that proved mutually devastating. Alone in the mirror, Wasner became anchored in her reflection.

Head of Roses, created in isolation, evocatively captures what it means to forgive. Raw lyricism details the discovery of perceived “brokenness” within her, evoking an almost palpable reckoning with self-image. Once she had the idea, Wasner says, a theme began to “emerge from the murk.” Clarity came as she learned to feel compassion for her own suffering for the first time; unable, also, to seek that validation from a partner, she turned pen to paper.

She began peeling back the pain of a fractured coming-of-age that she had previously been “unable or unwilling” to sort through.

“I don’t think I was operating in the world as myself,” she says. “The songs tell that story.”

As she strung one song behind the next, the story defied subjective bounds with a plot about pain and heartbreak that proved universal. The transcendental nature of this is what Wasner believes is the real point of any art—broadening understanding through introspection.

“It goes to show all the ways we can hide from ourselves,” she says. “That’s why I’m drawn to something like songwriting. My life has changed immensely as a result of that practice, showing up and seeing what emerges in that creative space. It’s the thing I’m most grateful for that carried me through this nightmare of a year.”

With the help of producer Nick Sanborn (Sylvan Esso) Wasner transformed a heartbreak diary into a folkloric, celestial pop  dreamscape. The production paves a sonic escape route from her lyricism, candidly untangling a labyrinth of self-discovery. Wasner usually produces her own records, as she has for others, like the singer Madeline Kenney.

But Sanborn brought her music places she had never ventured. Tracks like “Two” and “One More Hour” measure the distance between infatuation and interdependence. The first considers the definition of freedom when personal autonomy feels gaping, while the second embodies the new-lover appeal of fantasy over reality.

Head of Roses grounded Wasner in previously inconceivable ways, with healing that extended beyond her nuclear realm and strengthened her relationship with the outside world.

“In learning to feel compassion for my suffering and forgiving myself, I opened myself to forgiving and feeling compassion for others,” she says. “We are all being called to heal ourselves, so we can hold more space for the immense amounts of suffering in the world.”

The title track itself came effortlessly. As the words melded with melody, Wasner felt a finality and chose it to bookend the 10 tracks. The closing line, “love is time,” captures the essence of this personal project.

“In the past, I’ve been so impatient to get to the bottom of something—like if I can understand it, I can fix it—but, sadly, understanding alone is not enough,” she says. “Healing has to happen in the body, heart, and mind, and that can take a long time. And sometimes the most loving act you can do is to grant that time and space, to yourself, or to the person you love.”

Here, personal growth budded. Embracing the fact that there is more than one side of every story, and that those stories are intertwined. “Head of Roses’’ captures this.

“The title is the perfect symbol of this,” she says. “When I hear it, I picture a garden overrun, blooming all over the place, the thorns of the thing fully inseparable from the flowers themselves” 

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