In listening to Wren’s new album, I felt a joyful return to this lost sense of patience, the art of quiet observation. The album is a meandering journey across the seasons that takes us through the wild soundscape of northern New England. But to call it meandering is not to say that it’s random or without purpose. We start in the fall, with a riot of crows, a bird so common as to be forever ignored. Thousands of birds paint the background in an indecipherable wave of caws punctuated by startlingly strange rattles and chirps. Crows, while notoriously opaque in their garrulous gossiping, here seem to aim their cacophony directly at us, imploring us to spend the time actively listening, as though this might allow us to decipher their meaning.
Wren’s voice, just on the slower side of Marlin Perkins (the host of Disney’s Wild Kingdom), gives us context to the sound of crows: “We begin in autumn, with the sound of crows traveling overhead toward their roost in the hemlock forest of Southern Burlington, Vermont.” His introductions to each soundscape are similarly terse and unobtrusive, reminiscent of museum labels that accompany art in a gallery. But beyond that, there’s not much to help us make sense of the crows. Nor do we linger quite long enough to discover any real intention behind their utterings.
A footstep in the water interrupts the crows as the track fades to the gentle lapping of a night at the Isle of Shoals, and I’m reminded that these sounds are Wren’s gaze, his quiet moments listening in on and capturing the musings of nature. The occasional subtle flourish, like when we find him in a Vermont swamp: “Notice the particular and peculiar grumbling call of the northern leopard frog,” reminds us too that these sounds are indeed peculiar, that they are worthy of our attention. We travel on to encounter “the unique conversation between a mourning dove and a northern cardinal,” “the generous calls of various gulls and shorebirds,” and “the clunking rolls and tumbles of ice in the waves,” and I find myself hearing a world in conversation with itself, wondering what magic I’m missing by not listening with the patience and focus with which Wren has listened.