35 Albums in 35 Years: 2003

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it. Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


wrens2003: The Wrens’ The Meadowlands

There are break-up albums, and then…there are break-up albums. For every record or song you might have that defines your break-up or your heartache, along comes The Wrens’ 2003 opus, The Meadowlands, a record of songs that defines ALL break-ups and ALL heartache, but maintains its own specific sequence of events and pain throughout. I was not going through a break-up when The Meadowlands came out. In fact, my girlfriend (and now wife) and I had just moved in together at the time. And things were good. Things were good, and I was about as far removed from heartbreak as one could be, and then I listened to the album at the behest of one of the clerks at a local record store.

And it just broke me.

It’s not that it’s an overtly sad or mopey record. After listening, there was no need to dress in black, or apply any eyeliner, or sit alone in the dark with my brooding and forlorn thoughts to keep me company. The album plays its hand early on that the preceding songs are a chronicle of heartbreak, pain, and regret, but it’s all presented so matter-of-factly that it feels as if maybe some time has passed between the actual break-up and when the music was composed and the lyrics written. There is a certain degree of detachment from the events in question, like the writer has been able to look back and reflect without the shroud of hurt covering everything. That aloofness is what gives The Meadowlands its universal appeal, a maturity gained from time and hindsight. The pain may have subsided, the wounds scarred over, feelings no longer hurt, and egos no longer bruised, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck at the time. But people move on. People forgive. People grow.

Or, at least that’s what I got from it…and still do. It’s been a long number of years since I’ve gone through a break-up or separation, a long time since I’ve been heartbroken. But I still remember it, and the account of feelings and emotions within The Meadowlands rings true.

The album opens simply with “The House that Guilt Built,” the sounds of crickets chirping and a gently strummed electric guitar while singer/guitarist Charles Bissell sings, “It’s been so long since you heard from me,” a phrase that feels like an introduction, an indictment, and a confession all at the same time. The Meadowlands is about a break-up, but that line could just as easily have been about the seven years since the band’s previous album, 1996’s Secaucus. (It’s now been eleven years since The Meadowlands came out, and a new album has been “in the works” that whole time.) From there, we experience the sweeping grandeur of “Happy,” the guitars building and building to Bissell’s lamenting of a relationship gone sour. “She Sends Kisses,” almost feels sappy and sentimental, the accordion humming in the background, our narrator remembering and reliving all the good memories and the bad ones as well. But goddamn, if it isn’t pretty. The record then runs its course, documenting and dissecting the relationship, the eventual end, and aftermath. Some tracks feel hyper and angry (“Hopeless”), some move and bounce with a frenetic energy (“Per Second Second”), and others crawl, a broken heart trying to move on (“13 Months in 6 Minutes”), but all of them feel organic and honest, a combined result of the earnest, heartfelt lyrics and the often crunchy guitar tones the band uses. This is most evident on “Everyone Choose Sides,” the album’s emotional heart, all distorted guitars, blasting drums, tape deterioration, electric piano, and the title, the very definition of what a break-up does to people. The passion and intensity build and build, and then abruptly stop. And we’re all lost in the wake.

Eleven years later…older, wiser, and fatter…a wife and kid…and this album can still give me goosebumps.

- Favorite song: “Everyone Choose Sides”
– Runner up: “13 Months in 6 Minutes”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: The White Stripes’ Elephant; The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Out Hair When We’re Gone?; M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts; Broadcast’s Haha Sound; Sleep’s Dopesmoker; Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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