Tristen has always been a difficult artist to categorize. Sometimes she sounds like country crooner and others a bonafide pop star, and her sound has continued to evolve and mature since her 2011 debut Charlatans at the Gate. Her crystalline coo is so dreamily suited to a great pop hook, she even conjures up images of Stevie Nicks at times. Her third and latest record Sneaker Waves is a slice of sweet pop perfection. Named after a forceful wave in the midst of calmer ones, Sneaker Waves is captivating and imaginative, and at times so beautiful it’s hypnotic.
It comes on the heels of Tristen’s lengthy turn as a member of Jenny Lewis’ band on the tour for Voyager, and there are hints of Lewis’ dreamy, retro-inspired pop here. But Tristen’s signature melancholy pierces through on this album, solidifying her as one of Nashville’s most precious gems.
As she did on her last record CAVES, Tristen wholly embraces synth and a kind-of layer of sparkle over each song she creates. A multi-instrumentalist, Tristen is a musical wizard and Sneaker Waves is a testament to that. Every track shows an intricate and loving attention to detail, whether she’s pushing full force like an ’80s rock goddess (“Alone Tonight”) or hanging back with a soft, hazy ballad (“Into the Sun”). And her vocals are so breathtakingly pretty, they suck you into her colorful, glittering world.
Lyrically, Tristen is a poet. Her songs make you think deeply, wanting to relisten to discover new meaning in them. And her ability to craft a polished, intelligent pop hook puts Taylor Swift to shame. “Clandestine” is a standout for these traits, as is the stunning “Negotiating.” On “NYC” she calls out the dark side of humanity, singing “terrible, horrible humans/take every moment for granted/and at the face of death, all ask/for a second chance.” It’s a killer opening to a deceptively lovely tune.
And with “Glass Jar,” featuring Lewis herself, Tristen places herself up amongst the pop music masters with a dizzyingly catchy guitar melody and the most earworm of a chorus I’ve heard all year. It has the power to knock the wind clear out of you, and then make you want to do it all over again.