For two decades, the Wrens’ Charles Bissell has struggled to follow up The Meadowlands, the forlorn and triumphant indie rock masterpiece that just turned 20 years old. Over the course of that time, a pattern emerged: Bissell would spend months and years tinkering with the recordings at home in New Jersey. Eventually, he’d promise he was wrapping up work and that an announcement was coming soon. Sometimes he’d share unfinished new music. The Wrens even signed to Sub Pop to release the LP at one point. But the album never even made it to the announcement stage; Bissell never considered it ready. In 2021, bandmate Kevin Whelan got so frustrated with Bissell that he funneled his songs from the unreleased album into a new band called Aeon Station. (That record came out on Sub Pop. They must have been frustrated with Bissell too.)
For weeks and months, Bissell has been assuring the world that this time, his new album is really finished; this time, it’s really coming out. He’s been pointing to today as the big announcement day. Yesterday he shared a lengthy blog post addressing the mental health struggles that plagued him throughout the late 2010s, offering both some explanation for what happened with the Wrens and a word of encouragement for others struggling with depression. Today, he has indeed made an announcement. No new music yet, but there is a new band name, a Bandcamp page, a song title, a release date. It’s not what we were hoping for, but it’s progress.
Bissell’s new project is called Car Colors. The first single, “Old Death,” is out Nov. 17. There’s supposedly an album coming in early 2024, which will “begin to rollout after the holidays/new year with a couple of singles-to-come, a video or two, the usual.” The label releasing this music will be Absolutely Kosher, the long-defunct indie that released The Meadowlands, which has been revived by founder Cory Brown for the express purpose of releasing Bissell’s new music. “When Charles asked me back to release his new music on Absolutely Kosher on the eve of our 25th anniversary, I was overwhelmed with emotion, but it just felt right,” Brown tweeted today from Absolutely Kosher’s account.
UPDATE: A rep for Aeon Station clarifies that Whelan did not quit the Wrens. According to Aeon Station, the Wrens have not broken up and cannot break up unless all four members agree on it. The other three Wrens members, all of whom are in Aeon Station, also seem to leave the door open for working with Bissell again in the future. However, referring to Car Colors as “Charles’ new side project” is probably not the way to engender goodwill between the parties. Here’s Aeon Station’s statement:
There have been an awful lot of things that have come in the way of this, over a whole lot of years, and so while I sorta still can’t believe it… officially, after 20 short years (and 3 weeks, 6 days, and some hours), welcome to AnnounceDay, Raggedy Man!
So let me get right to the good parts, then we can wade into the iffier waters of the backstory…
I’ve renamed the new project Car Colors.
The first single, Old Death, will be out Nov. 17th but is available for pre-order on 12″ vinyl (w/ two b-sides) as of this very morning(!) and you can do that HERE!
The new album is out early 2024 (more on that as we get closer).
And all of that is via the legendary…Absolutely Kosher Records (!), (yes, as in they-who-released-the last-album,-the-Meadowlands (see Backstory below)) now newly revived & relaunched after a 12-year hiatus and just in time for both their 25th label anniversary and our first Bandcamp Friday together.
We’ve also got a bunch of related nifty things up sleeves:
album will begin to rollout after the holidays/new year with a couple of singles-to-come, a video or two, the usual..
There will be number of limited-edition versions of the vinyl album with hand-silkscreened covers by me, which will be available in a couple places (mostly a couple friends’ stores)
an Atmos v. of the album (after regular record release), and if it pulls off, an accompanying ‘live’ Atmos listening party at a theatre near you (ok, actually just near me).
There will be NFT’s of a select number of alternate versions of songs (I know they have fallen – or plummeted, really – out of fashion in the last year or two but I’m still really excited by them, by some cool under-utilized opportunities they present.
the art project of ‘orig’ v. of album (yes, I’ll be trying to show, and theoretically sell, the ‘album’ as an art piece – see my whole years-long ‘Originals vs Copies’ thing) & I’ll be doing that with the esteemed (and ok, just plain cool) artist, Beth Campbell
And a few other things that are still in the hashing-out
More on all that after the single, after the new year..
about the Old Death single…
I’ll go into more about Old Death, this single – as a song, about the lyrics, about how it’s an invocation and a stand-in for the album in miniature etc. – before the Nov. 17th release date. Ditto the two b-sides, And It’s All Guns & Arrows (alt. take), which will be on the album (along with the original v. of that song), and I’ll Bear, which is single-only.
But in the meantime, just a quick hat tip to the drummers, Jeff Lipstein on Old Death (he recorded his drums too) and Bill Swartz on I’ll Bear (we recorded him in our basement with two mics and Bill’s iPhone, so technically, Bill ALSO recorded his drums – ha). Both are old friends, both drum takes are amazing, and more on both later as well..
Why putting it out now..chiefly, once we’d started working on this all last winter (more on that immediately below), part of the plan became to relaunch Absolutely Kosher with this as the first release. And part of that plan was so that Cory could take some advantage of the remaining months of this, Absolutely Kosher’s Silver 25th anniversary as a label. He’s got a lot of wonderful releases & re-releases lined up: the awesome Sybris, releasing their first new single, Dead on 10/20, albums by Edinburgh School for the Deaf and Brabrabra later in Oct., a label podcast, a holiday TV special, a series of box sets..it’s happening.
Then the Car Colors album in early ’24 (more details to follow).
After the break-up of the band in 2021, I spent that summer & fall scrambling to figure out what I was going to do for this record both label-wise (staying on Sub Pop, vs another label vs self-release), lining up things like a publicist (esp. if I was gonna put it out myself) etc.. That winter (so that’s winter 2021-2022), I arranged with various friends to re-do the drums on my songs since they were the only things I hadn’t played. And while those drum recordings came out wonderfully (more on those heroes later), I had been already pretty exhausted & unhealthy long before the album even finished in 2019, before the protracted band break-up over the next couple of years (for a good idea on how bad it had all been, see yesterday’s post on mental health). And so by that spring (2022), I sorta just lost any final momentum and gave up.
Yeah, I half-heartedly mixed a couple songs, I wrote/recorded a couple more to extend the original eight songs into a full album…but I had stopped (and was actually happier in the non-music stuff than I’d been in years). During that time, I also sort of punted any decision with Sub Pop – to be clear, putting a record out with a label of their size, stature, resources & history was literally what I had worked decades toward and the idea of walking away from that was incredibly hard for me. But I also think I knew that with how everything had played out, that I would have to leave.
Things continued apace into the fall – so that’s last fall, a year ago, 2022 – when discussions began between the other former-wrens & myself, Cory (he of Absolutely Kosher), along with our former management, trying to hash out a plan to re-release the meadowlands for its 20th anniversary (which just passed a few weeks ago).
As those talks broke down, it was clear we would not be re-pressing/re-releasing the album but there was good that came out of it – among other things, I was reminded what a good, and crucially, honest person Cory was. I was also reminded that we were able to work together well & get things done not because we agreed on everything, but because we could disagree without rancor, and figure whatever out. So I asked him if he’d be interested in reviving Absolutely Kosher, which he’d had on hiatus since 2011, to help me put this record out. I figured we’d do it on Bandcamp, maybe press some cassettes or piano rolls, and we could both go out on a high note, as it should’ve been all along, together. That was my pitch anyway (ha). Sweetly, he was very moved and agreed, so I wriggled out of my SubPop contract right before the holidays that December. But cooler, once he hit the ground running after the new year, people seemed to come out of the woodwork to offer him (and by extension, me) advice on the changing label-scape, distribution, investment etc. It all just seemed to back up my hunch that this was the right thing all along (following hunches being sort of a late-blooming thing I’m putting stock in). And his momentum carried me along with it. I went from having thrown in whatever towel one throws twenty years after a game ends at the end of last year, to here, as we close out the last few months of this year, more optimistic and excited about music, about putting out this music, than I have been in a loooong time.
And I wouldn’t be doing it if he hadn’t said yes.
I still feel like something is going to happen and this album is not going to drop. But things are moving in the right direction for the first time in a long time.