How do you ever follow up a record that is as highly revered in the indie rock world as The Wrens’ Meadowlands? The album was released in 2003 and then the band faded away for 18 years with sporadic news of fresh material every year, new album talk constantly being whispered and dreamed about, and almost every following year The Wrens potential new album landed on every “most anticipated release” list. Of course, this past fall we received the announcement of Aeon Station, which is longtime Wrens member Kevin Whelan’s new band moniker. The announcement also came with news of his first solo record, Observatory, and that Wrens members Greg Whelan (guitar) and Jerry MacDonald (drums) would be supporting the project as Whelan could no longer wait on anyone else to finally release his music.
Regardless of how we got here or the water that has passed under the bridge since 2003, Aeon Station represents a fantastic energetic burst of music that feels like it was just discovered in a buried vault and all of the excitement that goes with it when it is good! Many of these songs have been in development over the last 14 years and you can hear the time spent on them in the delivery. Every note sounds in place, every harmony is well structured and the sequencing flows with no disruptions. From the opening 1:38 intro track “Hold On,” Whelan sets the stage here with its lyrics “This life you make is bound to fade / Dreams grow old and waste away / The truth will lie or seem unclear / The pain can change or disappear / When all that you know or believe to be true goes wrong / Hold on.” Those lyrics feel like the “letting go of the past” that helps Whelan look ahead as he moves into the excellent sprawling “Leaves.”
The tempo of “Leaves” starts off slower like “Hold On” but when Whelan exclaims “If I wait I’ll tear the memory of fear out of my eyes,” the song builds with his higher intense vocals and surrounds him with instruments as you can hear how he was lost but now is firmly planted. That is the gorgeous part about this album, as both musically and lyrically Observatory mirrors life as there are valleys and peaks. Aeon Station uses those lows and highs to construct momentum pieces as each song can instantly blow up before your ears.
Fans of The Wrens should appreciate this record. Observatory has a much cleaner production and bolder sound compared to Whelan’s earlier work but it really seems like a natural progression. The layered vocal interplay that ends “Fade” is familiar sounding and impressive while “Everything At Once” is a memorable mid-tempo foot tapper. “Move” is a solid ballad that sounds like you are sitting in a living room show with Whelan, while the bigger than life “Queens,” plays large throughout with vast guitars and quick drumming before sharply finishing as a fading acoustic strummer. The entire record works masterfully with headphones on and is a bit of a grower. Even though it could never live up to the high bar The Wrens left hanging, Aeon Station is a great listen and finds Keven Whelan free from the past burden of those growing expectations. That fresh breath and new focus on life gives Observatory its striking pulse!
Key Tracks: “Fade” / “Leaves” / “Queens”
Artists With Similar Fire: Broken Social Scene / The Wrens / Pinback