Best of 2018: Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Flock of Dimes) Loves Christine and the Queens’ Chris

It's catchy, danceable, and generous.

In place of a more traditional year-end best-of list, Talkhouse has asked some of our favorite artists to choose their favorite album of 2018 and tell us all about it.
—The Talkhouse Team

I don’t even necessarily believe in the concept of a favorite record, because different records do different things—my love for them and connection can feel equal but in different directions. So basically this is an impossible task, but what ended up settling it for me was trying to think of the record that I might have the most to actually say about. So I chose Chris by Christine and the Queens, which is a product of a French, genderqueer, pansexual woman. This is her second record. Chris, the name of the record, is the name of her sort of alter ego. She challenges a lot of the norms and expectations held over the heads of women in music and artistry and life. She challenges the illusion and myth of gender, and plays as this sort of strong, hungry, powerful, hypersexualized version of herself.

So I picked this record for the obvious reason that it is an absolute smash, start to finish. Every song is just perfectly written, perfectly produced. It’s fun to dance to but it makes you feel things. It’s just a monster. It’s so good and so much fun, but there’s so much heart in it, and vulnerability.

But the thing that maybe bumped it into favorite territory is that my relationship to this record has coincided with my feelings about pop music in general. I’ve always felt that I’ve been straddling these two worlds of being drawn to making universally acceptable, hook-forward music, but at the same time I felt a lot of shame about that. I spent a lot of time in these micro communities of people that are very judgmental of music that is in any way accessible, or they’ve hyper-intellectualized their relationship to music. That kind of really adventurous music is really important for pushing art and pushing the culture forward, but at the same time I find myself drawn to making a very specific kind of emotional, personal, and accessible kind of music. The last two years of my life, the journey of that has been about trying to deal with and explore and hopefully eventually rid myself of the shame that comes along with that.

I met this woman who I didn’t really know, she was a friend of a friend, and I don’t really remember how this came up. I probably said something self-deprecating, as I am wont to do. She probably said, “I’m excited to see you,” and I was like, “Ah, we’re just going to play some silly little pop songs.” She pressed me, like “Why would you say that about your music?” And that got us into this conversation about why I feel that sort of guilt and shame around those kind of tendencies. She used a word in describing pop music, or accessible music, that I had never heard anyone use before. She said that she thought it was a very generous art form. The word generous really struck me; it honestly felt like she had dropped an anvil on my head or something. “You make a kind of music that can be enjoyed by lots of different kinds of people who may not have had the context—education or exposure or cultural awareness—to be able to appreciate more so-called challenging styles of music.” Just that one word… She gave me this incredible gift. It made sense to me why I always felt compelled to keep making these songs and delivering them in the way that I do. It’s meant to be generous. It’s meant to be something that lots of different people from different backgrounds can appreciate and be emotionally moved by. It flipped a switch and I’ve been thinking about pop music and accessibility and immediacy in a totally different way since I had that conversation. And that brings us to this Chris record.

On the surface it’s an extremely catchy, extremely danceable record. I feel like anyone could put it on and not necessarily even listen to the words and be moved by it—just to dance and have fun. It’s just catchy! But under the surface is this woman who’s really trying to challenge something about our culture and challenge people’s ideas of what someone like her—a queer, gender fluid, pansexual person—can look like and act like and say and do in the public eye. In doing those things in the form of something that’s so accessible exposes people to ideas and possibly even moves the culture forward in the way that people think about someone like her, in very real ways. It’s kind of a revolutionary act. If you’re talking about reaching the mass amount of people with these subversive ideas and changing hearts and minds, I can’t think of a better way to do it. Music is such a powerful form that people connect with so intensely and so viscerally. So my own journey with all this stuff has made me think about this record in a whole new light and really explore and dig a little deeper. The person depicted in this record is a really emotionally complex person. There’s a lot of pain, references to struggles with depression, alienation, judgment based on the way you look and how you choose to express your love for others. It’s really complex, and it presents an entirely different picture of what a feminine person can be and do. So for me that just feels really important and valuable. And very generous.

All those reasons are why this record really stuck out. It’s soundtracked a lot of the shifting ways I’ve been thinking about my own music and open-hearted music in general. I’m really grateful for it, and in addition to that it’s just a total banger from start to finish. I’ve been planning for a long time to make a record that’s much more immediate, and less obscure. I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m going to be able to do that. Not that my songs haven’t already been very personal and direct, but even those songs I think there’s a level of obscuring myself that I’d like to at least try to do away with even more than I already have. Listening to something this, and hearing how intensely personal and vulnerable it is, it’s definitely encouraging in going down that path.

As told to Josh Modell.

(Photo Credit: Left, Paley Fairman)

Jenn Wasner is a songwriter, musician, producer and human being. She has released solo music as Flock of Dimes and collaborates with others as a member of Wye Oak and Dungeonesse. She is alive, at work and at play in the city of Durham, NC. You can follow her on Twitter here.