Children born around the release of the Wrens’ indie-rock classic The Meadowlands just recently turned 18. For much of the 2000s and beyond, lore surrounding this New Jersey four-piece spread through college radio and campus shows, keeping the Meadowlands flame alive among millennial listeners. At a certain point, the band’s repeated promises of a follow-up seemed to define its very existence. These days I find myself wondering if young people even know or care about these dark, chaotic, gorgeously melodic songs about feeling old and tired and hopeless but trying anyway. Can a great band wait so long that it loses its shot?

The members of the Wrens might argue that they lost their shot many times over: by turning down a seven-figure record contract in the ’90s, by (mostly) not giving up their day jobs and capitalizing on their success with long tours. But Kevin Whelan, Wrens co-founder, bassist, and sometime singer, recently decided that enough was enough: He couldn’t wait any longer for Charles Bissell, the band’s de facto frontman, to deem the long-finished album complete, after years of tinkering. As Whelan told the Times, he pulled five songs intended for the Meadowlands follow-up, re-mixed them, and wrote five more, which he will put out under the name Aeon Station. The album, titled Observatory, will be released this December by Sub Pop, and first single “Queens” arrived this week with an air of ambivalence.

After 18 years, the first taste of new material is better than expected, albeit released under heartbreaking circumstances. It’s very good, but it’s also very Wrens-like: Featuring three-fourths of the band, including Kevin’s brother Greg Whelan and drummer Jerry MacDonald, “Queens” is a patchwork of songs that flash between violence and beauty as Whelan seethes plainly about lies, things left unsaid, and promises of being all-in. The band’s reliable Pixies-indebted soft-loud dynamic roars to life in thrilling distorted guitar riffs that remind me of old Weezer B-sides, and just as the song comes to a close, Whelan bursts into a barroom acoustic strummer that slowly fades. I used to think of Bissell as the connector bringing together the disparate directions of Wrens songs in an artful way, but “Queens” manages that part well; instead, I miss his voice and his more poetic way of expressing frustrations. “Queens” and the other tracks that make up Aeon Station’s Observatory may well be the initial half of the Wrens album we’ll never hear, sparking Bissell to release his own songs, or they may live permanently in the shadow of this once-beloved group.

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