- 10 Dec 21
Wishful indie underdogs stage slight return.
The Wrens eked out a twilight career through the 1990s and 2000s as the discerning listener’s secret indie crush. Even as their music swerved from student disco catharsis to bedsit psychedelia, it was bound together by a thread of underdog foreboding. The New Jersey quartet seemed caged by their own vulnerabilities, destined to be the cult artists other cult artists adored. Which made The Wrens special but also doomed them to obscurity.
It probably didn’t help that most of the band very sensibly decided to keep their day jobs, which in the case of brothers Greg and Kevin Whelan involved successful careers in the pharma industry. Inevitably, that led to The Wrens growing apart – to the point where bassist/vocalist Kevin Whelan and singer/guitarist Charles Bissell are reportedly no longer speaking (a dispute over Bissell’s extracurricular work maintaining the group’s social media and website etc having apparently turned sour).
The falling-out scuppered plans for what would have been the first Wrens LP since 2005’s Meadowlands. Kevin Whelan’s solution? To form the side-project, Aeon Station, and invite along guitarist brother Greg and Wrens drummer Jerry MacDonald.
Aeon Station thus is very much The Wrens with an asterisk. And for fans who’ve pined for more of the wistful melancholia that was a feature of Meadowlands, Observatory delivers in delightfully morose quantities.
“This life you make… is bound to fade… dreams grow old and waste away,” sings Whelan on the opener ‘Hold On’. Driven by a baroque piano, it has a Jeff Buckley/Thom Yorke power ballad quality. One good gut-punch follows another, with ‘Leaves’ proceeding from a Mercury Rev-style, faux-choral opening to wintry dirge. Tiptoeing through snow-drifts of angst it is, like much of the LP, gorgeous yet very sad.
The Wrens could shriek as well as they could shudder, and there are flashes of front-row abandon on ‘Queens’, fuelled by autumnal riffs and a raging-against-the-gloaming fervour. With ‘Air’, meanwhile, Aeon Station rise from a swell of turmoil towards a liminal place where hope and despair, anger and empathy are entwined. It isn’t quite a Wrens comeback, but it does represent a new chapter for the band and it is thrilling and deeply affecting to witness it take flight.
Observatory is out now via Sub Pop:
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