For Fans Of
To candidly talk about a new mewithoutYou record feels like writing an academic essay without including any of the footnotes and having to cram study in the night before. Everything this band has put out has a deep, thoughtful sense of purpose; slowly weaving together an intricate yet incredibly detailed tapestry of stories and sounds over the span of seven incredible albums. So it would be amiss, therefore, to begin a review of the band’s most recent edition ‘[Untitled]’ without taking stock of where we find this band on their journey right now.
2015’s ‘Pale Horses’ continued the Pennsylvanian band’s return to the ‘rockier’ sound that the band became so well known for with ‘Catch Us For Foxes‘ (2004) and ‘Brother Sister‘ (2006). However, it was not without strong influence from the band’s experimental and, in a sense, game-changing LP, ‘It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All À Dream! It’s Alright’ (2008); a record that saw the band flirt with sounds of folk, ska and even Dixieland. It was a ‘Kid A‘ moment of sorts: a rejection of all that made the band who they were in order to recreate something truly special.
This creative liberty is key to unpacking the ideas and tones of ‘[Untitled]’, an emotionally-dense LP that represents the darker element of the band’s dynamic sound; the lighter side contrasted by this year’s ‘[untitled]’ EP, released back in July. From the opening strands of ‘9.27am 7/29’, it’s clear as day that this is going to be the band’s most aggressive output since the aforementioned ‘Brother, Sister’ release. As the case is with most ‘angry’ records – regardless of their genre, though – personal tensions exist at the core, and it damn well shows here. The sluggish and creeping ‘Flee, Thou Matadors’ and the grunge-alt-rock of ‘Another Head For Hydra’ are riddled with feelings of nervous angst, whilst the multi-voiced ‘Wendy & Besty’ captures vocalist/spoken-word-master Aaron Weiss unleashing some of his most aggressive and off-putting lyrical content of the band’s entire career. (“Tell your parents it’s true/Though I’d never physically hurt you/I do know some Arabic prayers/But I left what was left of my self-respect/Like a Swiss army knife on the ground/And a pocket of coins at the IDF checkpoint/By what some call ‘the Temple Mount.’”)
With the intention of this new LP to capture the darker sounds of the band’s sonic depth, the aggression and heaviness are executed with a tasteful sense; they don’t overstay their welcome and don’t feel jarring in context of the wider songs. (Most tracks fall below the three and a half minute mark too). However, it’s the more reflective cuts – moments like ‘New Wine, New Skins‘ – that pepper the record helps it feel like an emotional journey through the nature of human processing. Rather than just an explosion of thoughtless testosterone and noise.
The R.E.M.-like ‘Winter Solstice’, while still being a driving cut (an acoustic-led alternate version appears on this album’s accompanying EP), it offers up some beautiful melodies; like it could’ve been lifted off the band’s transitional ‘10 Stories’ LP. Likewise, The dynamic rendering of ‘Tortoises All The Way Down’ (also a great Every Time I Die song, by the way) strips away the roaring guitars and pounding drums, with the first minute of the song seeing Weiss being only accompanied by a single guitar, as he darkly croons about deeds done in the dark; wrapping it all up in Davidic and various other Old Testament lyrical imagery that’s hard to pull from your mind.
It’s these moments of vulnerability that make this 12-track record such a phenomenal listen. And when combined with the heaviness that the band brings here, you have the best moments of the LP. ‘Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore’ continues the band’s commitment to sonic exploration, with Weiss’ voice petering in an out of audible reach, with a low drone of synths, reverb, cymbal crashes, and washed out guitars being his only backing; all before the full band kicks in with a steady march as Weiss’ verses grow into pierce shrieks beneath a haunting chant. ‘Julia (or, “Holy To The LORD” on the Bells of Horses)’ goes in the other direction, with Weiss singing softly and sweetly beneath a wall of thickened grunge/alt-rock; countering both the records heaviest instrumental moments with dynamic fragility. This wonderful song can in a sense sum up this entire 12 song epic (19 when you include their previous EP as a prelude); a grand collision of light and dark, with no resolution in sight. Just a need to externally process the mind and the heart through art. And that’s exactly what mewithoutYou do so well with their music.
‘[Untitled]’ builds magnificently on the broader palette of sounds and stirring emotions that the quintet began to bring together on ‘10 Stories’ and ‘Pale Horses’. Even with an accompanying EP releases earlier this year, every song here feels like it holds significant weight in the band’s catalogue, both musically and lyrically. And when held together, it stands as a mysterious, emotive yet highly intriguing body of work. Which is often where mewithoutYou are at their best, as is the case here with stunning LP.
1. 9:27a.m., 7/29
2. Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses)
3. Another Head for Hydra
4. [dormouse sighs]
5. Winter Solstices
6. Flee, Thou Matadors!
7. Tortoises All the Way Down
8. 2,459 Miles
9. Wendy & Betsy
10. New Wine, New Skins
11. Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore
12. Break on Through (to the Other Side) [pt. Two]
‘[Untitled]’ is out now via Run For Cover Records.