FLOCK OF DIMES – ” Head of Roses Phantom Limb “

Posted: April 15, 2022 in MUSIC

On her second full-length record, “Head of Roses”, Jenn Wasner follows a winding thread of intuition into the unknown and into healing, led by gut feelings and the near-spiritual experience of visceral song writing. The result is a combination of Wasner’s ability to embrace new levels of vulnerability, honesty and openness, with the self-assuredness that comes with a decade-plus career as a songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and prolific collaborator. Simply put, “Head of Roses” is a record about heartbreak, but from a dualistic perspective. It’s about the experience of having one’s heart broken and breaking someone else’s heart at the same time. But beyond that, it’s about having to reconcile the experience of one’s own pain with the understanding that it’s impossible to go through life without being the source of great pain for someone else. “Part of the journey for me has been learning to take responsibility for the parts of things that are mine, even when I’m in a lot of pain through some behaviour or action of someone else. If I’m expecting to be forgiven for the things I’ve done and the choices I’ve made and the mistakes that I’ve made, it would be incredibly cowardly and hypocritical to not also do the work that’s required to forgive others the pain they caused me.”

Showcasing the depth of Wasner’s song writing capabilities and the complexity of her vision, “Head of Roses” calls upon her singular ability to create a fully-formed sonic universe via genre-bending amalgamation of songs and her poetic and gut punch lyrics. It’s the soundtrack of Wasner letting go – of control, of heartbreak, and of hiding who she is: “I think I’ve finally reached a point in my career where I feel comfortable enough with myself and what I do, that I’m able to relax into a certain simplicity or straight forwardness that I wasn’t comfortable with before.”

Head of Roses” puts Wasner’s seismically powerful voice front and centre. Those vocals help thread it all together – it’s a textured musicality, quilted together by intentionality and intuition. Wasner and producer Nick Sanborn (Sylvan Esso, Made of Oak) assembled “Head of Roses” in the same way you’d put together a mixtape, painstakingly and carefully melding disparate parts into a whole, transcending genre to weave a story of heartache and healing together. And in the same way a homemade, painstakingly-crafted mixtape plays out, with the maker’s fingerprints left all over its songs – so goes “Head of Roses“.

Carefully curated and culled from the depths of Wasner’s heartbreak and healing, it’s deeply, intensely personal. But just as we change ourselves by embracing the pain of loss and uncertainty, so too are the purpose of these songs changed through the act of creating them. Having succeeded in healing the person who made them, they now exist for those who find them in their own moments of need. Always in motion, the original spirit of creation has already flown from this place—but it’s left behind a blueprint, a tool for you, to lean on, too.

The selection of live recordings for “Head of Roses: Phantom Limb” run the spectrum, from solitary to exuberant. Some were made solo, in the summer of 2020, while other tracks are electrified with the energy that comes from a day cooped up making music with your friends. The versions of “Spring in Winter” and “Like So Much Desire,” from Wasner’s 2020 “Like So Much Desire” EP, were both recorded alone, on a grand piano in the rural sprawl of Pittsboro, North Carolina at Manifold Studios. The undulating, subdued version of “Hard Way” was recorded live for a KEXP session while Wasner was holed up in the Californian desert, and the live versions of “Two,” “One More Hour,” and “Price of Blue” that live on the bonus disc were recorded with the help of Wasner’s friends Mountain Man, Matt McCaughan, Joe Westerlund, Michael Libramento, Alan Good Parker, and Nick Sanborn out at Betty’s in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There are also covers of two of Wasner’s favourite songwriters — Joan Armatrading’s “The Weakness in Me” and Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” the latter featuring contributions from former bandmate Aaron Roche.
 
Among the second disc of bonus material is a “Head of Roses” beginning – the acoustic demo of “Lightning,” recorded ages ago in the secondary room at Betty’s, before the song hit its final shape on “Head of Roses“. There’s also a handful of previously-unreleased “Head of Roses” outtakes – “Wonder” and “Go with Good,” both written at the same time as the rest of the record, but ultimately left on the cutting room floor. And then there’s a kind of postscript: Wasner wrote and recorded “It Just Goes On” in one afternoon at her friend Stella Mozgawa’s studio, and the version that exists here—guitar, bass, vocals and drums—are those first unedited performances of hers, along with some invaluable production contributions by Ethan Gruska. “Head of Roses” was complete by that time, but she knew this brand new song was still connected to that collection —a last word, a sort of epilogue. In that same way, “Phantom Limb” serves as a bid adieu, a final reflection on the past two years of Wasner’s songwriting.

Jenn Wasner’s voice, both as a songwriter and as a singer, has never sounded better to me. What a gift this album is. And for real, that extended guitar solo on “Price of Blue” is worth the price of admission alone.

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