Aeon Station - Observatory Music Album Reviews

Aeon Station - Observatory Music Album Reviews
The bittersweet solo debut from Kevin Whelan—formerly of the Wrens—is a rousing, unabashedly sentimental indie rock album that stakes out a sweet spot between the anthemic and the intimate.  

The Wrens’ final album now exists only as a broken promise. For years, the New Jersey band pledged a follow-up to their 2003 masterpiece The Meadowlands, periodically even claiming the record was all but complete, only to blow through whatever deadline they’d set for it. The holdup, by most accounts, was the band’s de facto leader Charles Bissell, a notorious perfectionist who always found more work to be done on songs he may never be satisfied with. “My best years and work are clearly behind me,” Bissell posted in 2014, in one of the regular status updates Wrens fans had learned to expect in lieu of new music.

Bissell’s painstaking process left the band’s other songwriter, Kevin Whelan, sitting on a batch of songs that, contrary to Bissell, he believed were the best he’d ever written. And perhaps inevitably, Whelan grew tired of waiting for others to hear them. Bissell and Whelan don’t agree on all the details of the Wrens’ implosion, which has left both musicians tossing around the word “betrayal,” but the unhappy ending was confirmed in a New York Times article this September where Whelan revealed plans to release his own album, which he recorded with two of the three other Wrens. The nail in the coffin? Observatory, Whelan’s debut album as Aeon Station, would include five songs he’d tracked for The Meadowlands’ follow-up.

If there’s an upside to Observatory’s dispiriting origins, though, it’s that the album is released from the impossible expectations of living up to one of the most beloved indie records of the last 20 years. And that helps, because The Meadowlands looms large over the Observatory, a rousing, unabashedly sentimental album that’s even more explicitly about recalibrating fading dreams than its predecessor.

Many of these songs seem to be commenting on their own backstory. The chiming “Everything at Once” in particular reads like a eulogy for Whelan’s former band. “We were the pilots to all the young dreams we wasted all away,” he laments. On “Alpine Drive,” he depicts the Wrens’ creative process as a Sisyphian exercise: “One thousand night shifts all end with the sun/Still breaking rocks into songs we never get done.” Though Whelan cast these songs as ostensibly hopeful, with takeaways about embracing change and rebuilding, they linger an awful lot on the setbacks and missed opportunities along the way.

As on The Meadowlands, Whelan stakes out a sweet spot between the anthemic and the intimate. Where Arcade Fire and some of the other bands the Wrens inspired sometimes conflated catharsis with spectacle, Aeon Station’s gambit is that it doesn’t need scores of strings and choirs to make its grand moments soar. Instead, Observatory achieves its goosebumps with minimal embellishment—a few accompaniments from friends, little splashes of backing vocals, guitars that break open at just the right moment. Whelan’s instincts are exquisite. His melodies are sweet, but never overstated. His songs rise and swell, but it’s never too much, always just enough. Even when they go unabashedly big, as the back-to-back stunners “Leaves” and “Fade” do, they’re grounded in a sense of humility.

Observatory is not, however, The Meadowlands. It doesn’t sustain the golden ratio of gut punches to bangers as that album, although in stretches it can come impressively close. Without Bissell, it’s missing The Meadowlands’ dueling perspectives, of course, but also some of its texture and scale. The Meadowlands was an hour long and still felt like a small slice of a vast expanse, suggesting an entire world just outside the frame. Even at a lean 40 minutes, Observatory’s borders show.

The tragedy of Observatory is it can’t escape the shadow of an album that can now no longer be. In a profile last month for The Guardian, Pitchfork associate staff writer Jazz Monroe shared an anecdote that’s bound to torment Wrens fans. Bissell let the writer sample a more intricate, alternate version of the Observatory rocker “Queens” that he’d punched up for the Wrens album. “My stomach somersaults upon hearing this mothballed labor of love,” Monroe gushed. “With just a few Bissellian flourishes—eerie harmony, close-miked guitar filigree—there’s an uncanny transformation to the song.” The Aeon Station version of “Queens” is plenty invigorating, to be sure. But no, it won’t make your stomach somersault.

So which is preferable, a mythic album that doesn’t exist, or a very good, if merely mortal LP you can play right now? Whelan’s pragmatic approach may not be as romantic as Bissell’s pursuit of perfection, yet Observatory’s songs support the possibility of settling for something different than you’d hoped and still coming up a winner. Near the end of the album, there’s a celebratory track called “Better Love,” the only song on Observatory that portrays an unqualified victory, with no regrets about what might have been. “Here comes a better love/Here comes the one you dreamed you’d always have,” Whelan cheers. You can’t avail yourself of something better, these songs contend, without giving yourself permission to move on.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Aeon Station - Observatory Music Album Reviews Aeon Station - Observatory Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, December 21, 2021 Rating: 5

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