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Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Wrens: "The Meadowlands"

There are certain albums or artists that cannot escape their backstories. Take, for example, the ever-elusive Jandek, who has released dozens of albums through the mail from a random Houston address and has only performed a handful of times in his career. Then there's M.I.A., whose father and mother are almost given more importance than the music she creates. In fact, more often than not, these stories sensationalize the artist, making their mediocre or downright awful music seem more artistic or important. The Wrens' 2003 album is one of those albums whose story has to be told. Fortunately, the album is also one that absolutely must be heard!

Forming in the late 1980s and releasing their first two albums via Grass Records, The Wrens were an indie band on the outskirts. They had a moderate following, but nothing too outstanding. After their 1996 release, Secaucus, Grass Records came under new leadership with a new vision of mass appeal, and even greater profits. The Wrens, whose raw underground rock sound didn't conform to the label's grand visions, refused to change their sound and were eventually left without a label. Grass Records soon became Wind-Up Records, home to huge successes like Creed, Finger Eleven, and Evanescence. The Wrens went silent. Without a record label, work on their next album went by slowly. Very slowly. By 2003 most of their small fanbase had moved on, but it was in this year, 7 years after their most recent release, that The Wrens returned with The Meadowlands; a masterpiece of indie and alternative rock.

The story is inspiring to say the least, but it is not the whole reason for appeal. The music contained on this album is absolutely breathtaking! Every track, every second is filled with memories of hope, regret, pain, and beauty. Songs range from heartbreaking ballads like "She Sends Kisses," - one of my absolute favorite songs, ever - to the uptempo, yet depressing thoughts on the process of making music ("This Boy is Exhausted"). Every song feels raw and unpolished, yet I can't find a single thing worth changing on the entire album. It is a testament to the 4 years of work that went into The Meadowlands.

The band's lyrics are often pretty disjointed fragments that you have to put together yourself. It's as if you're given a puzzle that's missing some pieces and it's your job to imagine what goes in the empty spaces. There are songs about breakups that you can't shake, feeling trapped in your own life, silly sexual encounters, and pointless relationships. The remarkable thing about every one of them is the amount of musicianship that goes into it all. Each song maintains a certain amount of sing-along-ability, with absolutely infectious vocal melodies. Some less so than others, sure, but everything here is worth listening to, worth making a big deal about.

I have been purposely vague in my review of The Meadowlands (yes, it is one of my worst), as I don't find it to be an album that one could not accurately portray the greatness of through words. My purpose in writing this review, then, is not to paint you a clear picture of what the album is all about, but rather to pique your interest and encourage you to listen for yourself. Unlike many, perhaps all of the albums that we've chosen to feature in our Top 25 Alternative Rock Albums list, The Meadowlands has absolutely no sentimental value to me. I first heard this album in its entirety just over two years ago, and there are no personal anecdotes or memories that accompany each listen. It is just an incredibly solid album that will endure beyond the music of the artists that Wind-Up Records kicked The Wrens to the curb for, and beyond most everything else made in the last decade or so. That's not too bad for a little band that no one believed in. And while the story of how The Meadowlands came to be may be a nice one to tell every now and then, it pales in comparison to the stories that the band tells through their music.

Key Tracks:
1. "She Sends Kisses"
2. "This Boy Exhausted"
3. "Thirteen Grand"
4. "Boys, You Won't"
5. "13 Months, In 6 Minutes"

10 out of 10 Stars

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Erin said...

A 10 huh? Well now I have to listen to it.

Anonymous said...

A 10 for an album that can't generate sentimental value? How can you tell your grandkids about it then? There is always some type of sentimentality created by great music. I call it a fraud and will not listen to it. I think you need to redefine your ratings system or follow your own definitions.

Cale said...

I can tell my grandkids about it if they ask, "hey, what was one of the best indie rock albums of all time?" Simple as that. Associating sentimentality with great music is your definition and not mine, nor Audio Overflows.

Does it bring out emotions, feelings, memories of things that I can relate to? Absolutely! All the best albums do! But unlike an album like Incubus' morning view, which I equate with High School friends, road trips, etc...The Meadowlands is just flat out awe inspiring from start to finish. It doesn't have to "take me back" to be good. Now, years from may. But for the time being it doesn't at all.

So deal with it, or you know...leave.

Suj said...

Cale, you are an idiot for telling anyone to leave your site. Dialog and discussion is what makes for a good blog.

cheesemeister said...

Cale I believe is correct, music should bring out emotions and feelings, should remind you of things from your past that you can relate to. You should not just say that an album is great because you first listened to it on your second date with your third boyfriend who you thought was so great because he drove a transam.

That is why I appreciate Cale's honesty and consistency in his reviews, he never lets his emotions get in the way of giving his honest opinion of the music as a whole. So, if you don't want to listen to the album that is fine. I am sure you protest will send shock waves throughout the entire music industry. You will be remembered for your boldness anonymous, you will be remembered.

Cale said...

Suj, indeed you are correct. But as someone who has had this discussion numerous times with people who have found a review to be less than their liking, I know that there is nothing that I can say or do to change their feelings.

I do think that it is entirely ludicrous to find one thing in a review that you take issue with that has absolutely nothing to do with the artist, but the reviewer, and then to say "That's a fraud. I won't listen to it!"

Personally, I can do without the type of person who would make such a rash decision. Good discussion comes from rational dialogue, and Anonymous went ahead and sank that ship when they posted their comment.

I will no longer respond to these comments. Please send me an email if you find anything else to take issue with. Thanks for reading.

Erin said...

What is the big deal? I don't get it. I think we have a lot of people on Audio Overflow who go around looking for things to actually piss off the writers. I believe that certain members of this viewing community are getting personal with comments, meaning attacking what people "say specifically" instead of appreciating their work and feelings that went into writing the review. I agree with Cale... it's one freakin' comment. Not really enough to ponder about, but apparently enough for everybody and their mom to comment on.

Music reviews, and especially those written here at Audio Overflow, are written by music lovers, like you all. We may not all agree on music, and we may listen to one another's music and then form an opinion. However, to discredit something and say you won't listen to the album just because of a particular sentence or two in a review is musical madness. You are definitely doing yourself a diservice.

Just one more thing... I don't think the ratings are to be taken quite so literally. There's an awful lot of mention of "grandkids". I would be willing to bet that most of AO's readers do not have grandchildren yet, so until we do, who's to say what we'll be telling them. It's all based on our opinions today, and Cale's was obviously that it was a 10. ...And seeing as how it's Cale blog, I'm pretty sure he can tell anybody to leave as he sees fit, including me if he wanted to, so who's the real idiot?