The career arc of alt-rock hopefuls is well established: indie prominence, premature major label signing, commercial disappointment, defenestration from label exec's office. The New Jersey-based quartet the Wrens, together now for nearly 15 years, has managed to avoid the inevitable, fleeing promises of impending success and refusing to budge from the unfashionable side of the Hudson. Their 1996 album, Secaucus (Grass), was messy and tuneful in enough of the right ways to attract critical attention, and their label fell into the clutches of one Alan Meltzer, who tried to foist a big-money contract and a commercial makeover on them. The Wrens flitted off to safety; Meltzer renamed the label Wind-Up and proceeded to inflict Creed upon the world. The Wrens next flirted with emo powerhouse Drive Thru, but backed away after the label worked out a distribution deal with MCA. Four years in the making, their new The Meadowlands (Absolutely Kosher) is consistently melancholy: the overarching theme of regret is spelled out by the lyrics to the lead cut, "The House That Guilt Built" ("I'm nowhere near / What I dreamed I'd be / I can't believe / What life has done to me"), and seconded by the music, which alternately seethes and sulks. On tracks like "She Sends Kisses," individual strands of guitar gradually coalesce into a single riff, build to a crescendo, then drop back into an elegiac coda--a trick of momentum the band pulled off repeatedly this summer at a show I caught. Later that night, when they faked their way through a fun, sloppy set of 80s pop-rock--the Outfield, .38 Special, stuff like that--the tune they really poured their all into was R.E.M.'s "Driver 8," suggesting they were nostalgic less for the cheesy pop past than for the idea of a simpler, pre-alt-rock moment. Architecture opens the early show; Ela and Paper Airplane Pilots open the second. Both are sold-out. Saturday, January 17, 7 and 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.