Album Review: Flock of Dimes - If You See Me, Say Yes

I only have this one body,” Jenn Wasner coos in her trademarked smoky voice as the opening line to the first proper song on If You See Me, Say Yes, her full-length debut released under her solo/vanity project Flock of Dimes.

Wasner is right—she does only have this one body, but there are three sides to it. The first is the decade she’s spent as the singer and guitarist for indie rock duo Wye Oak—an outfit, originally based out of Balitmore, that since the release of its debut in 2008, has moved farther and farther away from a jangly indie rock sound by adding layers upon layers of angst (then later depth) to its sound.

The second is her short stint as the singer for the seemingly one-off project Dungeonesse—a fun collaboration between herself and producer Jon Ehrens which exploited their mutual love of Top 40’s pop and R&B from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The third, and final side, is Flock of Dimes—Wasner’s long gestating solo endeavor that has been kicking around since 2011 when she contributed the nervy, glitchy track “Prison Bride” to that year’s Friends Records cassette compilation.

The following year she released two 7” singles under the moniker—“This is Why I Can’t Wear White” and “Curtain,” and since then, the project has remained relatively quiet while she fulfilled other musical duties, save for a few tours in support of other artists, and last year’s outstanding cover of “Don’t Dream (It’s Over.)”

Because so much time has elapsed since Wasner’s early, singular releases as Flock of Dimes, the project itself has had time to grow and evolve leading up to the crafting of a full-length effort.

There was an ominous undertone to those early singles—a little bit of tension, a little bit of edge and dissonance—and that is mostly cleaned up or gone completely on the material from If You See Me. It’s still an amalgamation of guitars, synthesizers, and drum programming—but over the last five years, Wasner has had the ability to shift the focus of the project and work in more pop sensibilities into the song structures—e.g. the gigantic, clap-along refrain of “Everything is Happening Today,” and the overwhelming pulses of the album’s first single “Sempahore.”

Much like the balance on the Dungeonesse album, If You See Me is sequenced so that a bulk of its most energetic or at least “upbeat” sounding material is found in the album’s first half.  The pacing begins to wane slightly with the slower moving “Flight,” as well as on the slightly spooky, slightly dreamy “Apparition” and the very dreamy, swooning “Given-Electric Life.”

Wasner picks the energy back up as the record heads into its final three songs—“Minor Justice” twinkles before she aims for “synth anthem” status as the song continues to grow larger and larger until it reaches a bizarre spoken-word coda that takes you through until the end of the song.
“You, The Vatican,” aside from having a strange and humorous title, is one of the album’s best—combining all of the most successful elements—80s synths, shimmering guitars, a somber, slow burning tempo, and Wasner’s voice taking a pensive stance on top of it all.

It’s also one of the songs that piles on the layers—a trick she began on Wye Oak’s fourth album, Shriek, which found the band trading in its “guitar and drums” sound for bass, programming, and synths—and found Wasner experimenting with lots of noise and effect pedal fuckery, which is something she brings to the table on Flock of Dimes. On “You, The Vatican,” the song descends into near cacophony with various whirring sounds and piano key plunking that both fight for dominance while the other elements of the song are still trying to exist.

If You See Me concludes neatly with the near lullaby “…To Have No Answer,” which harkens back to the brief, 20 second intro to the album, “Sometime it is Right....”

For a project that only generated five songs plus one cover in the last five years, it’s nice to see that Wasner was able to follow through on Flock of Dimes with this full-length. While it shifts in tone throughout its running time, overall, If You See Me, Say Yes is a rather cohesive affair that I would say gives her a creative musical outlet outside of her day job in Wye Oak; however, both Shriek and the band’s odds and ends collection Tween relied very heavily on synths and exploring new sonic territories, so released at this point, the record kind of comes across as Wye Oak without Andy Stack playing the drums.

With as much time as Wasner has put into Flock of Dimes as a project, it is something I do hope she continues on with beyond the standard album/tour cycle behind If You See Me. It’s a record that juxtaposes a whimsical sense of humor alongside serious introspection, making for a thought provoking and surprisingly fun listen.

If You See Me, Say Yes is out on Sept. 23 via Partisan Records.