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Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner: Five Essential Björk Songs

Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack (photo by Shervin Lainez, PR)

Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack (photo by Shervin Lainez, PR)

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An intimate confluence of spirit and empathy, conquering geographic distance, shaped Wye Oak's remarkable fifth studio album, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs. It's still a bit weird to not think of the duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack as a Baltimore fixture, as they were for the earliest chapter of their career. It's been a while since the two split for different cities: Wasner now lives in Durham, North Carolina and Stack in Marfa, Texas. 

Yet the pair's physical separation and outside projects — like Wasner's solo venture Flock of Dimes and her work with Jon Ehrens as Dungeonesse — has only solidified and strengthened Wye Oak's artistic durability, inventiveness, and risk-taking. There's a ephemeral, almost metaphysical tide to Wasner and Stack's songs on The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, and they effortlessly experiment with an artillery of instruments and arrangements, finding a ravishing sweet spot where synths, strings, and guitars meet.

There are also a couple of stirring tracks that hint at Wasner's longtime admiration for Björk, who turns 53 on November 21: the undulating "My Signal" and the urgent radiance of "The Instrument."

In addition to celebrating her Scorpio self, Björk will also be in New York in the spring of 2019 to premiere a new concert production, Cornucopia, during a residence at the Shed, a new venue opening at Manhattan's Hudson Yards.

When we asked Wasner if she might write us a list of her "Five Essential Björk Songs" for FUV Essentials, she sent along an extraordinary assessment of a quintet of songs that she especially admires.

Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner: Five Essential Björk Songs:

Björk Bjams ... Discovering the music of Björk when I was a teenager changed the course of my life. At the time, the internet was fresh and new, and I had only just begun figuring out how to use it to discover new sounds and ideas. For the most part, I went to record stores and bought CDs that I had heard about or looked interesting.

I remember overhearing a table of quintessential private school jock-bros making fun of someone called Björk for all of the usual basic ass reasons (I think this was right around Swan Dress-gate) and immediately thought, "OK, I have to hear this." That weekend I bought Post, Homogenic, and Vespertine, which had just been released, and the deal was sealed. As tough as it was to narrow down to five  favorites for someone with such a rich and varied career, here's my attempt to list the songs that hit me first and hardest.

"Hyperballad," Post (1995)
I think this is the first Björk song I listened to, and it reshaped the way I think about music almost immediately. At the time, I was just starting to play music with others — almost entirely men — and was subconsciously trying to reshape my natural tendencies: to present as more typically masculine in order to be taken seriously. This song inspired me to embrace the things about myself that I had been previously trying to hide, and reminded me of the power of my own emotional vulnerability.

"Unravel," Homogenic (1997)
One of the simplest and most unique expressions of longing I've ever heard. It's remarkable that something so elemental and universal can still sound so original and specific. That's how genius works, I guess.

"Cocoon," Vespertine (2001)
For the intimacy of the vocal performance alone, this song takes a spot. Every single syllable is so considered and intentional, down to the breaths she takes and how she takes them. This song just sounds like love feels. I count it among the best and most moving vocal performances I can think of.

"Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)," Medúlla (2004)
For every rule, there is an exception. I would never expect something so outwardly gimmicky (making a record solely out of sounds made by human voices) could transcend its concept to become something I'd actually want to listen to years later. In short: I can't stand beatboxing but I love this song. Who knew.

"Unison," Vespertine (2001)
Up until this point I hadn't heard many women sing about relationships that sounded like the kind I would want to have. Mostly I'd hear the same messages of infatuation or heartbreak, of doing anything for someone or spitefully moving on to the next. But the message of this song seemed to be more about keeping fierce independence alive in the midst of a deep spiritual connection to another person:

I thrive best, hermit style
with a beard, and a pipe
And a parrot on each side
But now I can't do this without you
I never thought I would compromise.

It was striking to hear a woman sing about a relationship as a meeting of two equals, and their connection as being based on preserving that spirit of independence and individuality. Plus, of course, it's just painfully gorgeous.

- Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and Flock of Dimes
November 2018

Read all of FUV's Five Essential Songs and Albums here.

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