“Some artists are interested in being complicated,” says Tristen. “They’re speaking another language to the connoisseur of the art. I have no interest in that. I want to be inclusive. I’ve always been interested in the purest form of the idea, so that it can communicate.”
That theme is at the core of Tristen’s third record, Sneaker Waves — a record that is smart but accessible, meticulously constructed but undeniably infectious. Out July 7 via Modern Outsider, Sneaker Waves takes its name from a natural phenomenon — the sneaker wave, an unanticipated and powerful coastal wave — and serves as a metaphor for death. “All the good poetry is about death,” says Tristen. “Death, like a sneaker wave, can come at any moment. And so the truest currency for a human becomes time.”
The mononymous singer hailing from Nashville, Tenn., released 2011’s Charlatans at the Garden Gate and 2013’s CAVES to critical acclaim. The folk-oriented Charlatans earned her praise as “Nashville’s best-kept secret” (The Boston Globe), and the more synth-pop-oriented CAVES featured “tales of greed, alienation and heartache, made poignant but never saccharine by their electronically enhanced surroundings” (Nashville Scene).
Sneaker Waves finds the middle ground between the “pop hooks and pure inspiration” (NPR’s All Things Considered) of Tristen’s debut and the intricacy of its follow-up. “I didn’t put any aesthetic parameters on this record,” she says of Sneaker Waves, which she and her husband and collaborator, Buddy Hughen, recorded at their home studio. “The only concept was to let each song decide what it was going to be. I figured out how to write a song and record it at my home studio, start to finish, in the moment of inspiration.”
The result is an album full of songs that function like snapshots, little portraits of the human experience that Tristen frames with her exceptional melodies and singularly poetic lyrics. “Glass Jar” — which features vocals from Tristen’s former bandmate, widely celebrated artist and songwriter Jenny Lewis — is an incisive, midtempo indictment of people’s preconceived notions about one another. “Alone Tonight” is a bittersweet heartbreak ballad about following someone you love too closely. And the waltzing “Psychic Vampire,” which echoes the cosmopolitan country of Roy Orbison, is about “the worst person in the world on her worst day, confined by her narcissism and crypto-amnesia.”
Tristen released her debut book of poetry Saturnine in 2016, and has toured the country extensively, winning audiences with her powerful performances and outsized vocals, channeling the rock ’n’ roll eclecticism of Tom Petty and the creative prowess of Dolly Parton.