Charisma can’t be bottled. There’s no recipe to pass on and recreate, because the very essence of its charm is the enigma, the lure of the je ne sais quoi—and Jenn Wasner’s idiosyncratic timbre is dripping with it. We could sit here and dissect the slant in her syllables, how her voice has a certain soft hum that ties each word to the next, but we would never quite be able to understand or mimic her.
Jenn Wasner's music isn't an extracurricular, it's woven into her state of being. She's simply shape-shifted depending on the project, acting as one half of Baltimore's folk-tinged indie-rock outfit Wye Oak, or partnering with Sylvan Esso for fresh covers of Crowded House and Gillian Welch. From her track record, it’s easy to sense a slight curiosity in Wasner’s approach. Honing her craft has never come with the sacrifice of sounding stale, which is perhaps most evident in her decision to ditch the guitar that's so firmly integrated itself into both Wye Oak’s and her own identity. Their 2014 release, Shriek, filled this space with bass instead, in an effort to sidestep the unintentionally patronizing compliments that came from being a woman with a talent for the six-string.
Now there’s a new development in Wasner’s evolution, releasing her first full-length album under the solo moniker Flock of Dimes. If You See Me, Say Yes is a dreamy, synth-speckled landscape, with hints of '80s electronica and poignant lyrics delivered in Wasner’s soulful, magnetic voice. The LP followed Wasner’s move from her hometown of Baltimore to a rural area of North Carolina, where she found a certain quiet and introspection that thrives outside the city. It was quite the shift from the fluidity of tour life, but with similar feelings of disconnect, a vague loneliness and thrill which tangle together when planting new roots. This is likely why her latest release feels so personal, and why we feel so invested as listeners.
The song "Semaphore"’s place as lead single is well deserved. Apparently, Wasner heard the word “semaphore” and found herself repeating it over and over, enraptured by both it’s sound and definition (a means of flag-based communication between distant ships). The song pulses on a slightly static percussion, upbeat and emotionally enthralling. Her siren pitch repeats the chorus, “Too far gone for the semaphore,” and even if the titular world is unfamiliar, the lyrics and melody connect on a visceral level. There's a sense of desperation which unfolds into a resolute acceptance, a not-all-who-wander-are-lost mindset emanating from the speakers.
Then there's "Birthplace," which is filled to the brim with a hollow, funky drum line and gleaming synths. Wasner's evocative trill affirms, "And my love is not an object / That rusts with lack of use." It's a meandering and rhythmic beat, one that feels like a bittersweet representation of Wasner's foray into independence. "It is a blank page / It is a sharp knife," she sings, ruminating on new beginnings and her more singular pursuits, which are accompanied by pangs of letting go. If You See Me, Say Yes is an intimate portrait of Wasner, and while I doubt she was seeking any approval in that regard, she'll still find it.