AEON STATION – ” Observatory “

Posted: December 9, 2021 in MUSIC
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Nearly 20 years ago a band known as the Wrens released a terrific album. Every so often there would be an update on social media from the band’s perfectionist-genius arranger Charles Bissell promising that a new album was around the corner. But nothing has materialised.

Earlier this year the ‘New York Times’ published a history of that never-released LP alongside an interview with Kevin Whelan, one of the other members of The Wrens. Whelan had also been waiting on the album, and he says that the delay led to a riff growing between himself and Bissell. Now, Whelan has decided to just release the songs he had written for the album-that-never-was as part of his solo project Aeon Station

Maybe that’s too much context, but it’s impossible not to think on all that time passing when approaching ‘Observatory’. After all, Whelan literally used the word “Aeon” in his pseudonym.

A more obvious link than either of those, though, is just how much this sounds like The Wrens. Eighteen years on things haven’t changed Whelan’s voice, the way he can unlock feelings with his strained and muscular delivery in a way that evokes Bruce Springsteen. 

Most everything here is somewhat familiar. ‘Observatory’ opens with ‘Hold On’, a gentle piano ballad that sets the scene in much the same way ‘The House That Guilt Built’ did for ‘The Meadowlands’. The songs which follow have that familiar sense of acceleration that drives the best Wrens songs – a skill honed during the group’s early days as a Pixies tribute act – and the way Whelan takes the energy from that acceleration and transforms it into explosive catharsis works as well as always.

To say this sounds familiar, though, is not to say that it is the same as what came before. Bissell is conspicuously absent from the contributors list here, and so too is the sense of his relentless tinkering. Whether you’re on #TeamCharles or #TeamKevin, it’s at the very least interesting to hear what The Wrens might have sounded like without Bissell’s art-rock impulses. ‘Observatory’ has a directness that The Wrens’ music could sometimes lack, and in striking that balance it feels very much of a kin to Hamilton Leithauser’s recent solo excursions.

Whelan downplays the arty impulse here, but nor does he completely do away with it. We shouldn’t forget that The Wrens are a band who have released multiple songs that are just two songs being played at once and tracked onto each channel – listen to the weirdly successful ‘Destruction / Drawn’ on that front. Whelan mashes two different tracks together again here on the wonderful ‘Queens’, albeit with one following another after the first’s apparent end rather than the pair playing simultaneously. For music otherwise built on momentum, the song causes an oddly welcome whiplash.

So yes, at last in some way there is some new music from The Wrens.

Aeon Station from their album ‘Observatory’ (Out December 10th, 2021)

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