Boys, We Won't - By Volume

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Boys, We Won’t

An in-depth exploration of The Wrens' The Meadowlands Author: , , , , , and on July 26, 2013
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This year marks the 10th anniversary of The Meadowlands, a much-loved album among the By Volume staff, yet one that has escaped widespread indie consciousness. For The Wrens it was a heavy exhale, a labored process mired by creative exhaustion and record-label battles; for us, the predominantly young adult crowd that embraced it, it is a striking peek into the struggles of middle-aged life. Where we witnessed The National slip into that phase with tempered judgment, The Wrens poured out youthful angst, in both heartbroken ballads and defiant anthems. The Meadowlands tells us that our adolescent feelings never go away, that we will likely feign adulthood, that the catharsis of an unrestrained chorus never subsides. It is an engrossing document of life, and perhaps the most underappreciated indie classic of the past decade. We hope through this feature to shed light on that assertion, on how this record is so important and resonant. Grab a mug; we have much to say.

“The House That Guilt Built”

The Wrens evoke as many shades of anguish on their lone beacon of a post-millennium album as they do midwest rock music, but what’s notable about this little folk number, and The Meadowlands itself, is how it gives over to humour. From the iridescent “Happy” to the woozy piano number that closes the album, The Wrens often crack the surface of their album with a loopy one-liner or the odd garish stylistic choice, which seem to be the only ways this suffocating piece of mid-life crisis could be tolerable. Nerves are frazzled from end to end, but not without the important caveat that the genre The Wrens dabble in is not merely for drowning sorrows, but also for celebrating the moments in life before they take hairpin turns into catastrophe. Before your girlfriend left you; before your sister stopped taking the time to call; before your favorite record curdles under your fingers and the words poison your puny heart; sometime after, when you’re too drunk to remember the name of the bar. And sometime much after that, when guilt has built a house, and you’re sitting on its goddamn porch recounting its goddamn construction, cracking open the first beer of thirteen as nature sounds off about you, as you tell your sad story to no one in particular but somehow speak directly into the inner ear canal of every over-educated graduate who hasn’t moved beyond the thirteen months in their lives that time has already shoehorned into the past, ten years now, twenty years, a wife and kid ago, a lifetime, and then another four years. You can cry, you can yell, you can create the millennium’s heretofore crowning achievement in art about the malaise of aging, but most important of all, you might want to lean back in your porch swing and laugh. ‘Cause this story gets pretty sad. – Lewis Parry


The Meadowlands is a record that naturally becomes an important character in the lives of its devotees; whenever I sit down to write about it, I find myself describing it like I would a person who was the catalyst of a major life experience. I imagine this hypothetical person, a white man in his 30s, sitting on a park bench with a guitar, strumming, humming to himself. He has a clean haircut but hasn’t shaved for a couple days. Nothing outwardly appears out of the ordinary, but something about the tune he’s humming makes him oddly compelling. In conversation, one learns he has a lot of things to say about a lot of wounds, but he gets into them slowly, as if feeling his listener out before showing him/her all its cards. His answers are initially short, stray phrases full of significance, but when pressed to explain more, he begins telling his story in earnest; at first softly, but soon, with eyes lit up. He turns out to be quite the passionate storyteller, and his story is an incredible one – at once very personal but engrossing as the listener spots threads that connect to his/her own life.

“Happy” is that moment when The Meadowlands begins to engage in a very dynamic way. In its slow crescendo, it moves from yearning to a defiance that sounds almost too insistent to be believed. Its title is a half-truth that’s more reassurance for the speaker than description to the listener – characteristic of the complicated position the narrator constantly takes on the record. Its pounding anger introduces The Meadowlands’ ability to kick ass – if the subject calls for it – and something about the song’s earnest confusion betrays that the subject will call for it often. “Happy” is not the best song here, but it might be one of the most vital. It’s full of promise for the record, its first real song, but without giving away all of its marbles. Perhaps its appeal, after a decade’s worth of aging, is that with every new spin comes the realization that the next hour spent with The Meadowlands will be tremendously important. – Adam Downer

“She Sends Kisses”

The best writers employ particulars as a way of describing the universal. It’s a technique Charles Bissell applies deftly on “She Sends Kisses,” sprinkling the little details of an old personal break-up (a sophomore at Brown, an address at #4 North Shore, and Beth….oh, Beth) into the pages of love-gone-wrong’s most tried and true vehicle, the Dear John letter. “She Sends Kisses” is usually one of the first songs on The Meadowlands that people fall for — a ballad whose conventional verse/chorus arrangement wouldn’t sound out of place on pop radio were it not for the way those accessible F and C chords resolve into minors and flats, the way all of Bissell’s vowels elongate into the same sound of stricken grief, and how those majestic vocal harmonies remain just a smidgen off (one of the band’s uneasy trademarks).

“She Sends Kisses”‘ resonance owes as much to it’s simplicity as to the adolescent angst Bissell evokes while recounting letters received in “envelopes stamped with ‘Hope & Hearts’ ripped right open.” It’s a song forever associated with youth’s loss of innocence — to listen is to dwell on that piece of ourselves that was lost when our own first relationships disintegrated. Then again, maybe that’s simply my own interpretation, considering the song so uncannily echoes my experience as a freshman in college nearly two decades ago. I can still remember that Sunday night like it was yesterday—- burning through all of my long-distance minutes during a marathon phone conversation, breaking into a cold sweat that terrible moment I realized she was no longer my girlfriend, and puking in a dorm trash can shortly afterwards. I can still remember the semesters that followed, finding more ways and girls than I could count to sublimate the heartache, to fuck the pain away. And while her name wasn’t Beth and her replacement didn’t work at a Lost and Found desk, the feelings are identical, old emotions torn away and pressed like dead butterflies to parchment. Most tellingly, to this day I still can’t think of a more crushing admittance of bravado, guilt, and desperation than those eight fateful words Bissell softly croons: “I put your face on her all year.” – Jeff Goodwin

“This Boy Is Exhausted”

You’ve got to hand it to The Wrens for making the first true rock song on The Meadowlands about writing rock songs, a struggle they align with the back doors firmly shut by life’s hardships. Because the Plan Bs inevitably turn to Plan Cs (“I can’t temp / I’m way past college”), compounding self-doubt until even the ability to write music, to carry on as a band is called into question. The defeated assertion punctuates (“I can’t tell a hit from hell from one sing-a-long”) and the last back door threatens to veer to a close, artist’s block crushing the one saving grace of these battered lives.

But then they find another, in startled wonder, as Charles readies his mike and Greg plugs in and Kev jumps in and there’s the treble checking “that says we might win” and Jerry squares off the set and then the crowd! The adrenaline! A hard-won setlist is blazed through, victory tasted in harmony with exhaustion, relieving testament to faith placed in this band. And the buzz lingers with the return to daily mundanities, success refuting the struggles that just can’t be absolved.

The clever ploy of “This Boy is Exhausted” is that this meta-commentary is articulated through the song structure itself: The Wrens explicitly render the rock feature of a “pre-chorus surge” as the surge of electricity to their instruments (“Greg plugs in”), escalating to the sweaty elation of rocking out, then transferring the buzz with the vertigo of a blissful chorus. It’s a weightlessness that endures the burden of the frustrated verses, as the inevitable end is another chorus, the “show that makes it worthwhile.” With that is the acceptance of life’s cycles, that perseverance is worth the heavy devotion. It’s an ideal yearned for in the latter half of the record, particularly in the ultimatums of “Everyone Choose Sides,” at which band struggles have reached a crisis point. So “This Boy Is Exhausted” serves as a beacon in itself, bearing significance on the record beyond its apparent confines.

And there you have it: a full-fledged rock song that is exhilarating, empathetic, and inventively self-realizing – and it’s merely the first on The Meadowlands.Ali Ashoor


This entire feature is devoted to pinpointing the certain something that’s made The Meadowlands such an important album, but I suspect that no amount of beautiful writing from our talented staff could give you an understanding of that something as well as shouting the chorus to “Hopeless” while beating your car’s steering wheel could.  “Hopeless” is the lynchpin of The Meadowlands. Of all the pounding pieces of literate-dude rock, this one pounds hardest. Of all the complicated relationships the album examines in hindsight, the one described “Hopeless” might hurt the most. But, perhaps most importantly, “Hopeless” is the moment The Meadowlands takes off.

This is no slight to the first four tracks of the record, and Ali might well think “Exhausted” is its first true rock song, but “Hopeless” is that song, the one that plants the idea that the great LP you’re listening to might be a classic. Maybe it’s because it’s the record’s first unabashed anthem; “Hopeless” is the first time where the record’s heartache is communicated with bitter, sincere triumph. And in this way, it looms large over the album. The object of Kevin Whelan’s breathy lyrics gets viciously broken down in a series of the record’s iconic lyrics—one struggles to think of a weightier six-word poem than “Oh no, not this time too.” How about the shift from showing off scars to sticking her face in them with “I feel I was the one who got used and used to do anything that you would tell me/BUT THOSE DAYS ARE LONG OVER NOW!” Consider how many sobs have been choked back while shouting “Go thank yourself for nothing/ it’s really all you’re good for!” You show your friends “Hopeless” because everyone should hear and feel what it has to say at least once.

“Hopeless” is where Meadowlands announces that it’s not just another record devoted to the misery of sad boys; rather, it takes responsibility as much as it pushes it outwards, plays the mope as much as it plays the caustic bastard. It actually reminds me a bit of Odessey and Oracle in the way it approaches lovesickness from different angles in different tones; it’s fleshed out with a wide range of emotion, making for a record that a listener can identify with at practically any point after a broken heart. There are plenty of moments where the record’s a pillow to cry into, but “Hopeless” is the first moment where the pillow gets beaten in a small, significant emotional victory. – Adam Downer

“Faster Gun”

It’s sad how “Faster Gun” can get lost within the reverb of The Meadowlands. It’s a blood-pumper from the onset. Jerry MacDonald’s drums hammer us to attention as guitar distortion whirls around him, and then Bissell cuts in, buried under mounds and mounds of vocal filters, turning his voice into a multi-layered, amalgamated swarm of vocal bees. “Maybe it’s love / maybe run luck / I’ll man the bed / and hammer out love”, he declares, coyly asserting himself a success. It should throw the listener, but “Faster Gun” sits smack-dab in between two of the record’s more lyrically depressing (er, resounding) tracks in “Hopeless” and “Thirteen Grand”. The track is an Eeyore dressed in wolf’s clothing.

“Snow scenes level lonely bastards!” is a line that has always stuck with me. It’s something about the brazen pessimism it captures; Bissell’s out crying to those fooled by an inebriated night out on the town, unable to realise tragedy will follow. The faster gun takes many forms, from an actual pistol to personal demons and even a penis. Bissell opens up a world of self-loathing and vacant sex – one where suicide is not a choice but an end result. It is a bleak place to inhabit, but The Wrens brighten The Meadowlands‘ bleak lyrical imagery with their exceptionally melodic guitar-pop. “Faster Gun” is pounding, a roller of a rock song. Reverb drenched and packed with an insanely driving rhythm, it’s somewhat surprising to find it may well be the Wrens’ most dire tune lyrically. And hopefully, upon further inspection, those who dismiss the track as wayward and mood-shattering will find there is so much to love in its deceptive beauty. – Dylan Siniscalchi

“Thirteen Grand”

$16,458.07. Adjusted for inflation, that’s how much an annual salary of $13,000 in 2003 will get you in 2013. And that’s still 12K below the level that a New Jersey study revealed as the state’s “deprivation line” – the point at which adequate food and necessities become unachievable and you simply can’t make ends meet, no matter how hard you work. Much of The Meadowlands‘ persistent pull comes from its creators’ own deprivations (financial, emotional, and artistic) when they toiled for seven years trying to roll this boulder up their Sisyphean hill. Their autobiography of shit luck and missed opportunities has universal appeal because it chronicles more than just the self-actualization sought in indie music purity; it’s about four ordinary guys who want the rest of Maslow’s hierarchy, too – a roof over their heads, jobs that pay the bills, a family, and an ounce of fucking approval.

Ironically, much of that recognition has come only with the passage of time – The Wrens’ mythology seems to increase each year faster than the almighty dollar ever could. “Thirteen Grand” is case and point for treating The Meadowlands as an album rather than thirteen separate songs – musically, it works best as a jangly, melodic breather between two of the record’s more abrasive tracks; thematically, it remains an enigma until you catch the opening line of “Everyone Choose Sides” (“Thirteen grand a year in the Meadowlands/ Bored and rural-poor”) and experience the litany of heartbreaks Bissell and Whelan reveal throughout their collection of ex-girls and scuffed-up pop gems.

“Thirteen Grand’s” most crucial lyric – the departing girlfriend’s insistence that “Jersey’s not a home” – personifies the album’s mixture of sadness, loyalty and battered hope. The Garden State’s dilapidated infrastructure, these exhausted relationships, and this life of scraping by that The Meadowlands has come to signify may not be what The Wrens had planned, but it is what they have. It turns out to be more than enough. At some point during the course of listening to The Meadowlands, you discover that these guys have always known what they’re worth. It just took the rest of us a few more years and these thirteen songs to figure it out. – Jeff Goodwin

“Boys, You Won’t”

As a collection on grief – experiencing it, causing it, dealing with it – The Meadowlands is about as thorough a treatise as any in modern music. Grief and its cousins, your hurt, your failures, your regrets, permeate most of the music here, and it’s these sharp emotions that make a song like “Boys You Won’t” stand out for so much more than the abrasive riff it opens with. Where earlier segments of The Meadowlands dealt with torturous heartache (“She Sends Kisses”), false confidences (“Happy”) and bitter recriminations (“Hopeless”), “Boys, You Won’t” stands out precisely because of its defiance. The apocalyptic buzzsaw of a guitar and dirge-like tempo would seem to indicate otherwise, but there’s something eternally triumphant about that chorus, no matter how beaten Whelan sounds, dragged through all the inglorious mud of life and the failed romance ostensibly at the heart of things here. This is The Wrens taking someone’s best punch and getting right back up, middle fingers raised in the tone of those pissed-off guitars.

It would almost be lazy analysis to read “Boys, You Won’t” as a metaphor for the band’s own professional struggles, but I like to think that the guys in The Wrens appreciate some good old-fashioned twenty-something laziness every once in a while. In this context, “I’ve been knocked down / but I stood up / down off of the ground, but I stood up / lost without a sound, but I stood up,” is a rallying cry, a reaffirmation of The Wrens as a band when the rest of the music industry had already passed them over as yesterday’s news. That crack of desperation in Whelan’s voice is the thread that brings it all together, the buried thought that, for all their faith, there’s still the chance that this is just false bravado. It’s what brings this confirmation of their own artistic ethos back around to the messy breakup the lyrics (and original version “Miss Me”) speak directly to. No one sounds this sure of themselves after the collapse of a relationship, nor could The Wrens have felt so sure of themselves during the long desert trek that led to The Meadowlands as they declare here. It’s that creeping, very human bit of doubt that makes “Boys, You Won’t” so much more than your average kiss-off and The Meadowlands such a compelling insight into coming to terms with your own fallibility. – Rudy Klapper

“Ex-Girl Collection”

Here’s the late-game curveball – a break-up anthem from the perspective of the asshole. “Ex-Girl Collection” is jovial and steeped in contradiction, just like the womanizer wailing through the track. The surface betrays nothing, blossoming from a lullaby lilt to huge pop melodies, lightheaded and dizzy from inebriation. Yet focus on the words and you’ll catch images of feminine rage, devastating heartbreak due to uncovered lies and deceit. Ann slams a door and “pours herself a Don’t-Ask Gin,” quietly seething with anger; Britt calls at work after discovering love letters from Beth, gritting her teeth through a “happy anniversary, jerk.” And how does the jerk respond? He laughs at the timing! That’s the persona dominating “Ex-Girl Collection,” the frame of reference through which the story is interpreted. Try to fight the narrator, try to distance from his character; you can’t. The harmonies are irresistible – it’s a blatant sing-a-long – and to sing is to laugh at the situation, make no mistake. You’re in his shoes, dodging objects and being called “ten kinds of bastard,” stifling the response that will beckon more fury. “It’s just how men mark time,” right? You better duck with that one.

The track gets more outrageous as it goes along: a girl breaks down “on line two” and Charles imitates her crying to the notes of the melody. That audacity is one of the major hooks of the song, distracting from the callous act with delightful pop intuition. It’s these knacks that elevate The Meadowlands, the manner by which conflict is translated to bright catharsis, whether these guys are facing label executives or annotating a lengthy list of ex-girls. And “Ex-Girl Collection” is the most striking display of how they ride a mean melody to euphoric overdrive. – Ali Ashoor

“Per Second Second”

The literal punch to the gut that the rest of The Meadowlands only describes, “Per Second Second” is all blood and bones, broken and grisly. It doesn’t announce itself subtly – that serrated guitar line gashes a hole through the mix, torn to shreds and drenched, soaked in acid and reverb, a psychedelic hue made reckless by late night and booze. It’s a song that careens from one end to another in a flurry of power chords and the shrieking metal that possesses the guitars for three and a half minutes, those lyrics buried so back they’re merely another noise. The Wrens’ idea of an instrumental is a soundtrack to drinking early and drinking late, stumbling to the taxi cab and puking in it, a blur of energy and exhilaration that predictably ends in regret on “Everybody Choose Sides,” the realization that that hangover is going to kick in, as inevitable as the rent, and here you still are, poor and motionless.

“I had this dream again, Ann shot me,” Bissell begins, but like most dreams, it’s difficult to tell where this one starts or ends, unintelligible and unkempt as it is. In the context of a dream, “Per Second Second” makes perfect sense, those raucous guitars an illusion, a celebration of a past that barely existed. The main vocals are switched in the mix with the backing, producing an odd effect that is all smoke and mirrors – discovering that there actually were lyrics to this song was like when I first tried playing back the Beatles to find some satanic secrets. The lyrics themselves are inscrutable, drunken ramblings, the kind of thoughts you don’t remember having. The music is a callback to the past; along with “Faster Gun,” “Per Second Second” is the most direct link to 1996’s Secaucus, now just the vestigial tail of good times. That music is really all that matters, a vibrant, chaotic wall of sound that nearly suffocates, eventually collapsing in on itself, bruised and spent. This is The Wrens’ viscera, lit on fire and spread out for everyone to try to illuminate. Try as you might, making sense of it is a fool’s errand – skip it or drink along, but no middle grounds here, please. – Rudy Klapper

“Everyone Choose Sides”

“Everyone Choose Sides” kind of encapsulates The Wrens in my opinion, or at least what they were trying to achieve with The Meadowlands. The song is anthemic, cathartic and resoundingly catchy, yes, but if one were to dissect a lyric sheet for it, they would find caverns of metaphor and facetious intent. “Thirteen grand / A year in the Meadowlands / Bored and rural-poor, Lord, at 35, right? / I’m the best seventeen-year-old ever,” Charles Bissell utters to start, setting the stage for us. The lights are dim, the backdrop dark, and out of the black he comes, his anecdotes alluding to the pressures of growing up. Clichés are non-existent within the realm of The Meadowlands; it’s all personal. “We’re losing sand! / A Wrens’ ditch battle plan / Record after record, black and deckered, tack, tack! / Definition: hell and high water” he sings, translating record-label woes and a lack of rent money into a fist-pumping battle-cry. By the time the band are echoing one another during the gang-vocal chorus – “Everyone choose sides!!” –  we are firmly placed at their feet, chastising the “Fatty come a courting” for “Lord, the money!”

Yet for all the lyrical gloom, Bissell is still able to direct the mood upward by the song’s end. As the guitars swirl and swell and the song reaches its final push, Charles exclaims: “I’m back! I’m back! So sing to raise the blind up!”. It’s an emphatic announcement of his resurgence from the confines of capital-motivated record execs (Interscope…) and less-than-supportive “friends”; He assures his detractors he’s “walked away from more than you imagine, and I sleep just fine.” The lyric describes The Meadowlands’ approach to suffering, and to a further extent the band’s inherent cathartic nature. For all the poppy window-dressing, this is heart-on-sleeve rock n’ roll, meant to render insecurities and the phantom of mistakes completely meaningless. Yeah, sure, they may have walked away from some metaphorical “everything”, but The Wrens are confident in their decision to do so.

That self-assurance is tangible, like we can grasp onto Bissell’s sarcastic venom as it spews from lyric to lyric. “Greener grasses fade from where you wind up”, he assures us, almost bitterly broken, before the chorus hooks around again and the band rescue Bissell from his collapse. This resurgence is the essence of “Everyone Choose Sides” and furthermore The Meadowlands as a whole. Like digging to China, one must tunnel through all the dirt to reach the surface once more. “We fought and brought up more / The shovel’s high up on the ten-ton line”, he exclaims as the song buzzes and crashes into a fade out. It doesn’t only conclude the album’s paramount, but also acts as a last gasp of air before Bissell dives into the darkness with “13 Months In 6 Minutes”, one of The Meadowlands more introspective, beautiful and dejected tracks. – Dylan Siniscalchi

“13 Months in 6 Minutes”

Okay, so first, “13 Months in 6 Minutes” is definitely not six minutes long. That’s something I have always wanted to complain about, and regardless of the song’s internal logic, I feel like I know better; unless that last minute of flat-scrubbed guitar chords is an epilogue to this particular chapter of Bissell’s tumultuous relationship, his song title is just another lip-curling lie from a romancer and asshole, both titles conjoined to make The Meadowlands the cruellest break-up album ever. Another eulogy, another prank; this is what The Wrens do. They break hearts, they laugh about it, and then their smiles fade into a very real frown.

I’ve always found “13 Months” to be something of a breaking point on The Meadowlands, a song which belongs entirely to Bissell and seems to admonish the idea of communal break-ups. “Hopeless” has nimble, heart-swelling backing vocals. “Thirteen Grand” sounds like five dudes sitting in their dilapidated house, staying up late to talk about their status (bankrupt, running on empty) before turning in. On “13 Months”, though, the smile doesn’t help ease the frown. Bissell is loveless, but also unsung, not harmonized; there’s one bit towards the end of the song where The Wrens sound like a band of brothers again, building to a final coda together, but no one pats Bissell on the back. So yeah, it’s nearly seven minutes long – come on, Charles! – but no one else finds that particular joke funny. Bissell tells it to himself, if anyone, the guitar riff tracing his voice, the words echoing about the place and the conversation going elsewhere.

It’s a neat trick, the fifty second lie – it’s just a sad one. The joke carries a semblance of truth with it, because it reverses Bissell’s position: this is six minutes in thirteen months, actually, a gruesomely long song that plays a slow motion replay of every moment of your love story. Like, even the couch sex on this song isn’t too hot, when you study it. It’s described as if spontaneous, for the fun of falling into it, but the morose, lethargic guitars that soundtrack push and pull at it, as if these two people are tugging each other towards a very bad thing. “Forward seven months”, Bissell says, dismissing the scene before the lovers even crash onto the couch.

“13 Months” is a joke about itself, an overlong, disastrous list of “and then this happened”. Who knows if that’s intentional; I think The Wrens really wanted to shorthand the story, because it helps justify the conclusion (“this counts as calling, three years out”). Bissell’s character presumes he can splice a relationship down to a snippet of what it was, visiting his lover a couple of times a month as if formal dedication will get them through a rough patch. It’s love, but the TL;DR version, which ends up more messy, more refusing, and more finite. A tragic love song gets even more tragic when you try to rip through it.

Listening to The Meadowlands I’ve always felt like something of an outsider; like High Violet or Trouble Will Find Me, I sense this record will have more meaning when I’m thirty-five and struggling. For now they’re fired like warning signs to the twenty-year-old version of me who hasn’t had a bunch of adult problems fall at the same time as the end of a relationship. Maybe that’s why Bissell is as funny to me as he is tragic: he sounds like a man grinning, reminiscing about the worst, and very uninterested in going back to it. But on “13 Months”, I notice how gripped by certain memories he is. The best moments of his relationship are asides to his lover getting on a plane and never coming back, or a shitty weekend where he realised he was falling out of love. They barely factor. But “13 Months” has at least one unspoiled memory, slipped in like an impossibility: “Wish we could just make out”. – Robin Smith

“This Is Not What You Had Planned”

So basically, The Meadowlands is the one. Behind By Volume’s closed doors, we had a bunch of albums in contention for our first roundtable, most of them lyrical sob-fests, all of them total Facebook status bait (minus one Mingus album), and if you looked at that list you’d probably see why we landed on this one, highest in the literary indie rock pecking order. We chose it for all the reasons you decide to write about a shit-hot classic album, like: all of us have it in common, for one, or maybe because it could make us cry on the right day, or how about because it’s about to get succeeded in The Wrens’ lineage of albums, finally, and we’re worrying that the jokingly-titled, potentially non-existent Funeral won’t be able to replicate these feelings we’re having, and have you heard “Hopeless,” by the way? That’s a question we all ask each other repeatedly, like we might get a new answer, and suddenly we can introduce a friend to a song that’s almost mythically devastating. Fucking “Hopeless,” man. Have you heard it?

When I listen to “This Is Not What You Had Planned”, I feel almost guilty about this feature. It’s impossible to force someone to absorb the feelings of The Meadowlands, because it’s a very unique experience to have lived – you’d have to at least have empathy for a break-up, or be facing some financial turmoil, or else these songs are just going to jam hard (which might, in the end, be a better premise for recommending the album). Worst of all, if you end up relating to The Wrens’ songs, you’re going to be realising some pretty awful things about yourself, and at that point, this album isn’t going to satisfy you as much as it is going to quench your thirst for self-loathing. It’s going to be revealing, for sure, but not cathartic. Kevin Whelan realises things on “Planned”, but he doesn’t get them out of his system. He busts a gut in his final moment; that “BABY” goes on for about fifty Ys, if he even gets that far into howling the word. But it’s not like that completes anything; he doesn’t lose his voice, or leave the room to applause, or even leave it at that. Just afterwards he mumbles the one thing the rest of The Meadowlands omitted: “this is not what you had planned.”

I’m more interested in what comes after Whelan’s outburst. That last line, for both “Planned” and The Meadowlands itself, is perfect. It sounds like the band been asked to stop shouting and talk it out like an adults. No quip, no excuse: the asshole takes the blame. This album is punishing for everyone involved in it – The Wrens themselves, and also their lovers – but never knows who exactly to punish. It spits out “go thank yourself for nothing”, and then ends here, with a man wanting to make out and realising whose fault it is that he can’t. And so no, it’s not cathartic, how could it be? It’s not one sided-enough for that. It’s easy to be on Bon Iver’s side against Emma, or to feel automatically sad about Blood On The Tracks, but this band is an ensemble playing the sad guy and the bad guy, without realising they come as a package.

“Planned” is the most candid The Wrens get; the piano sounds sarcastic, playing a sharp and cheerful fanfare for a bitter half-apology.  The first ten seconds is just the band shuffling noisily into the room to record, one of them coughing so loudly it sounds deliberate – not a throat-clearing, but an interruption of the album’s fantasy. With that gross cough, I suddenly realise The Meadowlands isn’t just cool lo-fi, or catchy alt-rock. It’s a long, fastidious way of saying sorry. I really used to think it was catharsis, and that “Hopeless” would make a bad mood righteous, but it’s actually quite the opposite. The Meadowlands is the apology you make up in your head while you’re still pretending it’s all their fault. I like to think, in this final song, someone might forgive these guys. I say I’m too young to get this wiser, older indie rock band,  but only on “Planned” do The Wrens act their age. – Robin Smith

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  • Mike Allen

    Loved this guys. Outstanding work.

  • Mark

    “Planned” is a Kev song! ;)

  • MT

    This album deserves all the attention it can get. Glad to have found this piece. Great job.


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Shrink Dust
Chad VanGaalen - Shrink Dust
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