Observing the past, observing the future
Kevin Whelan released the album Observatory under the stage name Aeon Station on December 10th, 2021. A former member of the band The Wrens, Whelan takes a different approach in this new album. While these earlier ‘90s albums featured rambunctious guitar strums, heavy drums and slow core surroundings, Aeon Station showcases more sullen, calm and controlled vocals and instrumentals. This may have to do with who was involved and when the creative process began.
Aeon Station includes assistance on certain tracks from all bandmates from The Wrens except for Charles Bissell—former lead songwriter and vocalist. This adjusted lineup includes Kevin Whelan as lead vocalist/songwriter, Jerry MacDonald on drums, Greg Whelan on guitar and producer/guitarist Tom Beaujour, with Mary Ann, Whelan’s wife, providing the occasional backup vocals.
This record’s process began 13 years back, with various members of The Wrens contributing to the album from 2008 on. Notably, 13 years is not usually the timeline seen amongst album making novices or experts. As the head lyricist of Observatory, Kevin Whelan even remarks on how the process is not one he’d personally recommend for elementary artists, stating in an interview with Psychedelic Baby Magazine,“For anyone starting out in music, this is certainly NOT a recording artist ‘how to be successful’ model.”
Observatory truly highlights Kevin Whelan’s past and current triumphs. It could potentially be seen to earlier and current fans of the Wrens as a peek into the inner workings of the songwriter Whelan’s life or, more importantly, ideas. As accounted on Sub Pop news, in those 13 years, Kevin Whelan got married, created a family, moved to Singapore and in the early stages of Whelan’s son’s life, his son was diagnosed with autism. The title of the album specifically reflects Whelan’s relationship with his son and remarks how his son observes everything. He states that in return, each song is an observation of a “certain situation or feeling.”
With 10 songs, this album is shorter and more compact than previous works by Whelan. Additionally, it is overall a more thought-out album in comparison to the lengths seen in The Wrens discography. With all this in mind, let’s dive into Observatory.
The album starts off with the somber and sullen one-minute and 37 seconds track “Hold On,” which amplifies both the beauty of the piano and vocals fading in and out of the soundtrack. Lyrics such as “pain can change or disappear” create a beautiful type of intensity that only music can invoke.
“Fade” uses a heavier bass, with rhythmic beatings underside a sturdy melodic. However, the soft drum beat brings out a sort of optimistic hint for what is yet to come. Soft “Oohs” are contrasted with Whelan’s deeper, poignant voice, helping the lyrics “It kept us from dreaming and leaving it behind us/ It’s all in our reach now so just take my hand won’t you” truly stand out.
In “Air,” Whelan’s voice is raspy and desperate. The instrumentals are cold but familiar. Overall, the track is chaotic and emotional, almost reminiscent of The Wren’s earlier work in the ’90s. Lyrics such as “It’s unreal how you can disappear… now that it’s over, it hangs over me” aid in developing this uneasy yet powerful atmosphere.
In “Empty Rooms,” a folky fingerpicking guitar is slowly built upon along the whimsical hymns of the background singers. Vocally, Whelan evokes a sound slightly similar to Elliott Smith, particularly in Smith’s song “Pitseleh.” Additionally, the distinct guitar lines remind one of musician Bedouine’s style. This fusion of different inspirations results in an exciting track. The last and final song of the album also implements this sort of musical similarity. “Alpine Drive” features folky notes strongly reminiscent of artist Jeff Buckley’s vocals. The lines “I’m on my way, I’m on my way back home” are the perfect way to end such a powerful album.
Overall, Aeon Station’s Observatory is hopeful, self reminiscent and gives listeners from various fanbases, specifically The Wrens, a familiar look back into a much different time.