"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 Feb 23 in the UK and Europe, 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 the slow march," says Tristen. "Death, like a sneaker wave, can come at any moment. And so the truest currency for a human becomes time."
The mononymous pop savant, and beloved member of Nashville's underground scene, is known for her "knack for penning an infectious hook" (Entertainment Weekly). Hailing from Nashville, Tenn., she 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 CAVES recast Tristen as a "synth pop siren" (SPIN Magazine).
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 what Rolling Stone describes as "Nilsson-worthy power balladry" and NPR illuminates as an album "bursting with great melodies and hooky arrangements that tickle the ear and won't leave your brain alone. Vintage keyboards or retro-modern guitar parts enhance Tristen's sometimes fantastical, often hilarious, always perceptive vignettes about complicated relationships, artistic ambition, and the ever-present shadow of mortality".
Her songs function like snapshots, little portraits of the human experience that Tristen frames with her singularly poetic lyrics. "Glass Jar" - which features vocals from Tristen's former bandmate, widely celebrated artist and songwriter Jenny Lewis - is an incisive, mid-tempo 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 also released a book of poetry in 2016, Saturnine, with a foreword by Ezra Furman.