Released: November 2014
Few indie records of recent years have achieved the emotional depth that The Written Years bear on their debut record, this self-titled LP featuring melancholy lyrics and melodies amidst epic drums and powerful synth sounds. Lead singer and wordsmith Wade Ouellet is the star of the show as this Vancouver three piece outfit emphatically charges its way through a succinct eight tracks of heartfelt indie rock. The Written Years may employ the same old tricks that plenty of other guitar records rely on, but it’s undeniably an album with plenty of heart and soul.
Despite only having three instrumentalists to show for themselves, The Written Years make one hell of a noise, achieving through the sublime production on this record a sound that channels the epic and the triumphant as synth strings interweave seamlessly with Kane Enders’ powerful minimalist drum beats. From the atmospheric toms in the verses of opener It’s Not Your Fault to The Phone is Ringing’s killer fills, the percussion on this LP is completely on point, supplying gravitas by the bucket load and finely mirroring the grandeur of Ouellet’s lyrics and vocal performances.
These performances themselves carry much of the record on their shoulders. As the LP enters its main body it becomes apparent that inventive chord progressions or exciting guitar sounds are not really on the agenda. However, in response to this, the frontman ups the stakes with his vocal delivery, providing power and emotion to otherwise average indie pop songs. “My love, please don’t you miss me / We were wrong from the beginning” he laments on the emphatic Homesick Dirge, conveying love and pain in familiarly equal measure through both his poetry and his perfectly imperfect style of delivery.
The formula wears a little thin as The Written Years enters its final few tracks. Emotive though his performances may be, Ouellet fails to drag most of the latter half of the album out of a pit of indie pop obscurity as Hospital Rooms, Are You Okay? and The Station all play it numbingly safe with bland picked guitars and effectively redundant basslines. Lyrics aside, the album feels increasingly like it hasn’t anything relevant or interesting to say as mediocre musicianship fills songs that go for minimalist but come out sounding nothing short of plain lazy. After such a forceful opening it is disappointing to hear the record descend into what would be described by most music publications as ‘indie landfill’ (but we know better than to used tired clichés like that).
Certainly a record that plays to its strengths, The Written Years is a flawed but promising LP. Its lyrics are coloured with emotion and heartache, and the Vancouver boys would do well to develop their sound instrumentally, as the poetry and melody of the record demonstrably outshine its passive guitars and uninspired chord patterns. At their worst this band is forgettable, at their best: powerful, compelling, formidable.