The Wrens- The Meadowlands

Rene Cisneros, Writer

Your typical bus ride to Midtown Manhattan involves a trip through the number of “past their prime” rundown tourist towns which litter the path to the Lincoln Tunnel. Forgettable to most, yet home to millions of childhoods which blend away to the collapse of 20th century working class industrial life, swept away by some undercurrent of an unstoppable force, a scientific law preventing the preservation of the old guard, as it withers away the crumbling foundations of concrete bridges, rusted train tracks, and scarlet bricked factories which encompass the subdued days and chaotic nights of the new New York sprawl. An environment of polluted air and vain attempts by politicians to cover up the scene established through the unstoppable gears of progress, once harbored flawed yet fulfilling middle class families, and a generation of adolescence yearning for a voice. Hidden beneath the toxic dirt of uprooted buildings, now vacant lots of brick and soil, lay hidden potential that when unlocked, with help from records remissing in the resonance of the Harlem Renaissance, give way to the hallmark of true New Jerseyan music.

I will try to express through words the meaning I perceive from a couple strings of notes and a few articles discussing the origins and impact of New Jersey’s unique underdog success story, The Wrens.

The Meadowlands represents much more than a period of time, Indie-rock’s own renaissance of the early 2000s, but also a shared culture of melancholic existence in the cold and unforgiving shadows of both The Big Apple as well as a brilliant past.

People love a Hollywood success story of self determination leading to critically acclaimed brilliance and fulfilling retribution. The Wrens (pronounced Rens) will not provide you with such a fairy tale ending. This album is both a cry out for help in the face of cultural obscurity, as well as a submission to the reality of a failed music career, one which started out with the expectation of world altering success, which ended with the slow burn out of a group of passionate middle aged men from Secaucus.

This album is certainly not for everyone. Its lyrics come from a very somber place, composed by mellow instrumentals and rough production which create the framework for a work that will cloud itself in a fog of familiarity and sometimes ambiguity, at times playful spirit, and at other times heart wrenching despair. Every song varying in composition and sentiment, each blend together to form an image of solid identity, an ethos of confidence in retelling past pains through earned arrogance. The finished work is greater than the sums of its perfect parts.

The Wrens use lyrics in a way resembling a one way conversation. They are like a continuous flow of dialogue meant to overwhelm. Their rhythmic flows of countless short stanzas are broken up by breaks of the occasional melodic breakdown. Songs like This Boy Is Exhausted and She Sends Kisses are used as these complex collages of seemingly millions of layers of audio which blend to create some unorthodox symphony. Everyone Chooses Sides uses brilliant lyricism to convey the idea of a seemingly failing, and everyday growing more and more obscure, band in a way that does not seem self pitying, and at some moments seemingly entirely defiant. In a way similar to slam poetry, the song switches from one low point to another, from family to romantic to musical shortcomings. My personal favorite, 13 Months in 6 Minutes is a long and relatively quiet track. It is focused on the somber instrumental and soothing rhythm to carry on through to the end of the album, with an emotional solo, a walk around the fretboard that ultimately returns to acoustic strumming and fading away of vocals, bleeding away to echos and finally silence and This is Not What You Had Planned.

Stolen from an interview done by Stereogum;

“WILL SHEFF: I think the Wrens are in the lucky position of being the exception that proves the rule. The way that the music business works, it’s a faceless, terrifying machine that tears off limbs left and right, and in order to have a corrective for that, the Wrens were selected by the culture to be the heartwarming, outsized underdog tale.”

Besides a pretty large cult following, in my opinion, it seems like this underdog tale has not reached the peak that it should have. It is, in this fan’s opinion, a true injustice the fact that The Meadowlands is not a universally revered record, selling out from New Jersey record stores at never before seen speeds. Why is it that an album such as this, one so fundamentally, candidly, and unequivocally New Jersian can be exiled into obscurity when “talent” such as Bon Jovi, Misfits, and My Chemical Romance are picked to represent our state in the mainstream? Of course the answer is a flaw in the idea of pop culture, in which innovative and passion filled art is overlooked, replaced by more digestible and better promoted acts. It is part luck and part marketability.

It takes a large toll being the step brother of (not so) arguably the most famous American state, the Big Apple itself. We share the scope of the metropolitan 5 boroughs, the same urban sprawl and the the obstacles which come with the attention, the millions of lives each with its own background, the side stew to New York’s main entree, a boiling pot of the same contents. Receiving all of the criticism without any of the glory. The northeastern corner of the state is the poor man’s Manhattan, and the suburbs inland able to see the awestrucking glass beams that surge to the heavens, while smoot hide the west Hudson coast. Who lives in the land beneath the industrial fog, the curtains of concrete boulders mixed with 20th century homes, run down and prepared to be bulldozed to make way for the future, swept away by the broom of inevitability?

WILL SHEFF: If I fully give myself over to my perfectionist urges, I would probably release a record every 12 years.”

The Wrens seem to be contempt with the path laid out by them. They have been burdened by almost a decade of record label incompetence, wasting 7 years of valuable time, hindering their seemingly unreached potential. A label merger left them out of the spotlight, forcing them to fall back into the curtains of cultural obscurity, and the band seems to have come to terms with their fate. Where bands like Weezer seem to continue past their expiration date, releasing vain attempts to regain the attention once given at the height of their careers (for example their newest record, The Black Album), The Wrens have found their group of loyal devotees, giving them the freedom to spend another decade and a half without releasing their much awaited follow up.

While not entirely perfect, and subjectively chosen by some high school know-it-all, this album does have something special. A connection to all that is destined to fall. In a way, this is my love letter to The Wrens mission statement, of dealing with the blows of reality while keeping hold to the hope and aspirations which seem to only belong to the realm of perceived, the one place the individual does have control over. Having been virtually untouched by the burden of expectations, The Wrens were able to create their own image of success.