Dinosaurs Are Small
In the Worlds of Wren and Mary
Wren and Mary play warm dark folk that will have you trudging out into the woods to start a campfire. Two ghostly voices and a loose acoustic guitar are the album’s primary instruments. The singing is sweet and reassuring, but you should not feel reassured. The lyrics, which tend to be eerie and sometimes violent, are what most interest me. But its the music that makes the words work so well.
It takes Wren and Mary fifteen seconds to sing the album’s first line: “there's no need to harvest your eyes just yet!” The melodies are stretched way out, so there just isn’t much room for exposition in the lyrics. I don’t think the band’s interested in providing much context anyway. Instead, we get glimpses of strange variations on our world. Such glimpses are described with childish matter-of-factness, regardless of how weird things get. In “Blood Feather,” they sing “that girl's got a feather growing out of her skull! / she doesn't know it filled with blood.” Gross, but striking.
Sometimes the eerie voices convey mystic advice. In “Blood Feather,” you’re told to “make yourself an antenna and pull down the original spirits signal.” That might be what they’re trying to do with the album––tune in to something big and ancient or get us to tune into it. In “Sinking Whale,” they say, “everything is a dinosaur / until you realize / dinosaurs are small.” This is Wren and Mary’s version of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It’s true: problems seem big until you notice they’re small.
And there’s another level of wisdom to “dinosaurs are small.” Dinosaurs are literally small next to things like tundras, rivers, forests. And in “Tundra,” advice is directed toward a tundra, as well as a river and a forest. To the tundra: “please don’t go to[o] close to the road.” Maybe they’re worrying about roads (and the civilization they bring) disrupting the natural beauty of a tundra. If so, they’ve found a clever new way to say it. They also sing, “wake up wake up you're gonna be late to school River.” It’s a fresh sort of intimacy with the natural world that goes well with the album’s strange, but organic sound.
Wren and Mary play with the scale of things. Dinosaurs are small; rivers have small concerns, like being late for school; and tundras are addressed like six-year-olds. The same band that evokes the epic moment of a dead whale sinking to an ocean floor shares small details from someone’s childhood. The scope of the album and its experimentation with what’s large and what’s small makes the album feel cosmic. I’m reminded of the seventies movie, “Powers of Ten,” where the camera zooms out from a picnic to a view wide enough to fit groups of galaxies.
In “You Smiled,” Wren and Mary sing, “you smiled when my mom always told me / to wear my helmet in the drive way.” In the realm of this album, one can use a helmet. From the eye-harvesting in “Blood Feather,” to the junky in “Hey Mr.!,” death and danger lurk often in the background (and foreground). Things even get downright Halloweenish––no song more so than “Spooky,” which samples moaning wind and people screaming.
Overall, Wren and Mary’s self-titled is a strong album from people who have a good sense for the weird. It makes me want to start my October playlist now.