I had the opportunity to listen to The Wrens’ new LP in November 2016. If you’ve heard it too, it was almost certainly in the same place I did: Charles Bissell’s basement.
The Wrens are one of rock’s great hard luck stories, an energetic band from New Jersey armed with memorable hooks, furious guitars and smart, heartfelt lyrics, foiled by a cynical label that dumped them to focus on turning Creed into stars. The Wrens spent the latter half of the ‘90s labelless and adrift before releasing their third LP, The Meadowlands, on another indie in 2003.
The Meadowlands is my favorite album of the ‘00s, teeming with resentment, world-weariness and heartbreak like no other. I’ve yet to hear a more perfectly sequenced record, one that so elegantly builds to an explosive finish without losing any of its power after countless listens.
Post-Meadowlands, The Wrens were poised to get some long overdue, well-earned recognition. Instead, we’re entering year 17 with no new Wrens album. I’ve nearly doubled in age waiting.
While the band has largely moved on to quiet professional and family lives, singer/guitarist Charles Bissell continues to hack away at the record in his basement studio. A few years ago, he generously invited fans on Twitter to come to his home in Brooklyn to listen to it. I took him up on it, and ended up being the only visitor on that particular evening. So not only did I get to hear this music I’d been waiting for on the bandleader’s headphones while he walked in and out of the room, I got to ask him tons of questions and had an amazing conversation with one of my heroes. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life, which I could go on about but won’t here.
Anyway, Charles said the album was virtually complete and headed to mastering for the second time. This was over three years ago. The man has a vision, and as he’s said repeatedly throughout this decade, “it’s done when it’s done.”
Bissell has made some fragments of evidence available to the public, including two full songs. One is “Three Types of Reading Ambiguity,” released on a limited edition cassette (he handed me one on my way out the door, and it is fantastic). The other is a fleshed out demo called “Crescent,” released on a benefit compilation way back in 2010. “Crescent” sounds like R.E.M. circa 1984 in the best possible way.
When I noticed that only a trace of “Crescent” appeared on the album-in-progress as a brief interstitial, I tried to advocate for its inclusion in full. Charles was very gracious about this, but understandably it isn’t my call to make.
In any case, the album is amazing and I hope you get to hear it. Maybe next year.