Feb 17 2022

Album Review: The Wrens – The Meadowlands (#MWE)

It’s interesting that The Wrens took four years to make The Meadowlands, because it probably showed up at just the right time. Almost 20 years ago, indie rock was having a Renaissance moment, as the Internet exposed a larger audience to an array of sounds from the underground. It should be noted, as has been mentioned elsewhere in recent years, that these sounds were mostly from white men who played guitars, and that the people writing and giving critical acclaim to these bands were also white men.

In the context of The Meadowlands, that’s important; while it’s clear the critical establishment would be interested in a new Wrens album in 2022, it almost certainly wouldn’t receive the universal praise that was heaped upon the band in 2003. We know this because it’s basically already happened: little buzz was made about Kevin Whelan’s solo album in 2021 under the name Aeon Station, and while the release was met with generally favorable reviews, the album came and went. You could chalk that up to our collectively shortened attention span, or that the album just wasn’t as good as anything The Wrens put out, but I think the biggest factor is that, two decades later, indie music and the people who write about it have changed greatly.

Given this context, The Meadowlands should seem like a bit of a relic. Plenty of its peer albums that received critical acclaim have been lost to CD dustbins and the Pitchfork archives. But actually, the final album from The Wrens still feels fresh. The band produced an hour-long treatise on melodic, literate rock that still has the power to provide a healthy dose of catharsis.

The album opens with a gradual build of melodic guitars and crescendoing vocals via “Happy,” all before a satisfying instrumental breakdown near the end of the track, heavy with echo pedal-saturated riffs. One can only imagine what this song sounded like at The Wrens’ now-legendary energetic live shows, one of which I was lucky enough to have attended at SXSW 2008. We are later treated to “This Boy Is Exhausted,” featuring in-the-pocket harmonies and agreeably jangly chords.

The album ebbs and flows from contemplation rock to high-energy stompers. “Faster Gun” is a slice of heavenly Sebadoh-esque power pop heaven that I actually remember hearing in high school on WOXY.COM (RIP), only for the album to shift once more to the gorgeous slow tempo track “Thirteen Grand.” The album isn’t without its instances of filler, like the repetitive “Hopeless” and the dragging “Boys You Won’t,” but taken in the context of the full project, every piece is a journey in thoughtful song construction, and sharply crafted melody is featured throughout.

Things get louder and doused in distortion for the one-two punch of “Per Second Second” and “Everyone Chooses Sides,” the latter sounding like a gratifying Robert Pollard jam. The album closes with “13 Months In 6 Minutes” and short piano outro “This Is Not What You Had Planned,” the former song a tranquil, yet magnetic reflection that evokes the twang of 1990s Modest Mouse.

Even decades later, The Meadowlands serves as a masterclass in rewarding, sprawling statements set to guitars and drums. The narrative might have shifted, but the music remains, and it’s still wholly enjoyable.

Score: 7/10