Who It Is: The Written Years – The Written Years; (2014)
What It Sounds Like: The Shins, Dear and the Headlights, Indie Folk-rock
Six years is a long time to be doing anything. Six years ago George Bush was president of the United States. Six years ago, The Dark Knight had just come out and was reminding everyone how fucking cool Batman could be. Six years ago, Funeral Sounds’ Mark Garza was six years old. Six years ago, I was in the 8th grade and still convinced that playing football would make girls like me. In six years a lot can change, and certain delusions surrounding certain extracurricular activities can fall away in a way that’s more than a little embarrassing. However, six years is exactly how long Wade Ouellet and his bandmates in Vancouver’s The Written Years has spent crafting their self titled debut album.
First off, this album is masterfully recorded and produced. Every snare hit, thumping bassline and twangy chord comes through with the kind of professional clarity that is usually reserved for bands backed by big major label recording budgets and is one of the first things a listener will notice, and be impressed by, upon hitting play.
The Written Years specialize in a very particular brand of Folk-Rock and their album in many ways exemplify the characteristics of the genre’s greatest success stories of the last decade. As with with all folk music there is a certain homeliness to the band’s sound, a quality of not quit feeling old but not quite new at the same time. The keyboards chime with warm vintage tones, the guitars twang and the basslines warble and hum beneath creating that comforting sense of familiarity but all expertly mixed and crafted with the most modern sensibilities. That familiarity extends to more specific moments across the album as well. The melodies and phrasing of Ouelett’s vocals on many songs strongly recall the trademark style of James Mercer of The Shins and nowhere is that more obvious than on “The Phone is Ringing” which also features an undercurrent of flowing strings in a style very similar to those found on Beck’s Sea Change.
I’m not saying The Written Years are plagiarists by any means, just that theirs is a genre that has been minded and explored so greatly in the last decade and it’s hard not to get the whole “head this before” feeling while listening. Unfortunately, at no point on the album does the band venture to experiment or tinker with their formula making for a very unsurprising, if pleasant listen. However, when the band occasionally takes a moment to inject some raw energy into their songs with the occasional shouted line, as they do on “Hospital Rooms”, the album does manages to elevate itself from pleasant background music status to fully a more engaging listening experience.
“The Written Years” is an album that is performed and recorded with laser precision and a high degree of professionalism; a quality that the band spent six years honing and striving for. The songs themselves are inoffensive but also very easy to listen to and could fit in nicely onto XM stations like Alt Nation and earning the band touring slots alongside bands like Young the Giant or Mumford and Sons. There are worse fates and that is likely one The Written Years would be happy to find themselves in. That said, there is no sense of adventure of this album. There is no danger, nothing in the songwriting that feels unique to the Written Years. For all their technical ability ,this album, despite only being 8 tracks long, drags and begins to feel tedious by the halfway point. There is nothing immediately wrong or bad this album but there is also nothing immediate about this album at all, which is ultimately its downfall.
Favorite Track: Homesick Dirge
Overall Rating: 5.6/10