The Wrens

The Meadowlands

/absolutely kosher; 2003/



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My review of American Analog Set's cute Promise of Love was followed by a flood of mocking comments from my friends and an e-death threat from an AmAnSet webring owner. Strangely enough nobody complained about the inaccurracy of my Smallville summary. Well, i'm a perfectionist. Just ask my research tutor. 

Smallville is way less complicated than I thought it was in the first place. It goes a bit like that : meteorites fall on Smallville, along with a very design spaceship (well, more like a spacebark actually) which contains a very human looking ET. The Kent family finds ET, decides to christen it Clark and ta daaa you get Clark Kent. All his superpowers didn't come from the meteorites, he already had them in the first place. So it's really like the early years of Superman. I thought it was only roughly inspired. Anyway, no harm done, I'm still enjoying Lex Luthor's company. 

So. Oh yes, the Wrens. This is the best indie rock record you'll hear this year. Pavement's gone, Sparklehorse didn't release anything this year, the Microphones quit writing actual songs, the New Folk Implosion album is good but still not as good as Bakesale and, even though they're still the greatest band ever, Fountains of Wayne failed to top their debut for the second time in a row.

I first listened to the Meadowlands during this summer (which will be referred to from now on as the "I could have taken some time to go to Sweden after all" summer), a rough mix was floating 'round the internet, and well all I had heard from them was a great track -"Everyone Choose Sides"- on an Absolutely Kosher sampler. The album is like a melodic cornucopia. Every track is flooded under layers of catchy melodies, you just have to pick the one you'll remember for the rest of the day. Even more importantly, everything sounds just in its right place, every song flowing into the next one flawlessly. 

The Meadowlands is a sad but very touching, almost euphorically hopeful record, starting with a couple of lines that set the tone right:

it's been so long / since you've heard from me / got a wife and kids / that i never see
and i'm nowhere near / what i dreamed i'd be / and i can't believe / what life's done to me

It's funny how i stopped paying attention to lyrics. I used to learn them all by heart and now my listening is insanely superficial. Anyway. After investigating a bit I learned that the Wrens were The Lost American Indie Band. They released Secaucus, a great album that wasn't properly promoted (that's when you start asking all those "what if..?" questions) and then more or less disbanded, only to come back 7 years later, releasing The Meadowlands on the ever-growing but still really indie Absolutely Kosher label. 

After enjoying listening to the album for a month or so, i decided to support the band like a real indie fan and send my money to AbKosh's Cory, who, in return sent me a cute silver & pink limited edition of The Meadowlands along with a free (thank you Cory!) copy of Secaucus. At first i was puzzled. I had gotten used to the rough mix and to my surprise some tracks had completely changed and some were gone. It took me about a day to get over that and I started re-discovering a great record, something that you don't get to do every day. I only started listening to Secaucus a short while ago and it is a collection of snapshots of the same band 7 years before, young, euphoric and ambitious. In contrast the band that released The Meadowlands sounds beat and depressed, but still hopeful. And Secaucus, in this respect, helped me realise who i was dealing with. This is a record made by people who reached for success and lost it the moment they grabbed it. They spent seven years, which must have been pretty gruelling, trying to deal with a life they had failed to escape from, working to pay the rent, trying to build families, and basically surviving. But, no matter how violent the backlash was, the band kept on playing together and finally succeeded to record these songs and release another album. 

This is important because this is what the songs are about, from the bleak-then-sunny Happy to the desperately hopeful This Boy is Exhausted to the dark, euphoric Everyone Choose Sides. The arrangements are inventive yet never superfluous or luxurious, the band keeps a very indie approach and sound, almost lo-fi on a couple of tracks, which, added to the honesty of the band and the songs themselves, turns the album into one of the first indie masterpieces of the century. This is more than a collection of impressively-written songs. It's an amazingly sincere record by and about fragile, exhausted men desperately trying to live up to their dreams. 

-Barbara H

/oct 15th 2003/