When I reviewed mewithoutYou’s [Untitled] EP back in August, I was hesitant to delve deep in to the tracks. I had less than a day with the release before publishing my thoughts so I kept to the broad strokes. But not today. I’ve given myself eight days to swim around in the band’s seventh album, [Untitled]. Even so, I think I’ve only just scratched the surface here. You could lost for months down the rabbit warren of philosophical and ideological topics touched upon on this record.
Nothing could be further from the calming, low key tones of [Untitled] EP than album opener ‘9:27am., 7/29’. The contrast is a real wake up call, wide eyed and unhinged. And yet it makes a lot of sense given that the band have just finished touring anniversary shows for their ferocious debut album [A→B] Life. This track asks the question what does it sound like when the mewithoutYou of 2002 and 2018 come together? And perhaps having answered that query, the band finally close the book on the [A→B] Life era.
The album’s first single was ‘Julie (or, Holy To the LORD on the Bells of Horses)’ which sounds like a direct continuation of mewithoutYou’s last album Pale Horses. That burning passion is still there, but is has form, composure and direction. Frontman Aaron Weiss’ lyrical content seems for the most part to probe the debate as whether all religions share the same God under different titles – he makes reference to numerous figures, locations and acts from several religions, as well as mentioning “You-Don’t-Know-Who” and to “bow before the same”. It’s a line of questioning that I find interesting and it suits Weiss’ lyrical style and penchant for covering many ideological themes in the space of one song.
When I first heard ‘Another Head for Hydra’ something didn’t sit quite right with me. The lyrics were as interesting as ever – seemingly an attack on materialistic and celebrity lifestyle – but the instrumentation was off. Since then, the track has grown on me, and I actually find it somewhat refreshing now to hear music with fewer twists and turns from the band.
‘[dormouse sighs]’ is an atmospheric, dark track. The guitar riff that introduces the song broods throughout. In contrast to ‘Another Head for Hydra’, this is a song where I knew the instrumentation is perfect from the first listen. It’s tense, taught, at breaking point but just about holding it all together, mirroring the lyrical content which highlights the tensions between religious groups and how one negative action from one simply leads to more aggression and suffering from another.
Around the midpoint of the album, Weiss’ ability to paint pictures with words is on full display. ‘Winter Solstice’ and ‘Flee, Thou Matadors!’ both take the listener on a very visual journey. The latter also has contains an excellent turn of pace halfway through – giving it a schizophrenic personality which reflects the mental state of it’s protagonist who believes he is the King of Spain.
One of my favourite tracks on [Untitled] is ‘Tortoises All The Way Down’. The lyrics are haunting, not in a supernatural way, but in that they seem to refer to something the artist cannot escape. They are heavy with the weight of inescapable guilt. For the most part, the music follows the same music motif throughout before exploding for the final verse. The band play with the idea of infinite repetition (something they have explored previously on Ten Stories closer ‘All Circles’), both in the music and lyrics – for instance the lines “while all hiding inside our painting of a house hung up inside that same painted house which ever implies another painted house inside lives,”. I love this notion, that the house in a painting on your wall would surely have painting hung on its walls, some of which could be of houses, which probably have their own painting as well, and so on forever.
‘Wendy & Betsy’ is an angular, aggressive – and exciting – number, which I think works well in tandem and contrast with ‘2,459 Miles’ (which could easily have found itself on the [Untitled] EP). They both deal with a form of isolation. ‘2,459 Miles’ tackles the physical loneliness familiar to many who have moved far from their home and are struggling to adapt to new surroundings. ‘Wendy & Betsy’ on the other hand seems to deal with ideological loneliness – possibly framed by an incident Weiss experienced when singled out and unjustly punished for his religious beliefs.
After the intensity of ‘Wendy & Betsy’, the two minutes and thirty one seconds for which ‘New Wine, New Skins’ remains calm is a welcome break. However the peace doesn’t last, a reminder to the listener that much like in real life, solace is only ever temporary.
The last two tracks on [Untitled] see Weiss managing his anxiety and mental stability. On ‘Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore’ he calls on his brother and bandmate for assistance. The album closes on a gentle note, with ‘Break on Through (to the Other Side) [pt. Two] acting as Weiss’ moment of self assurance. “Someday I’ll find me” he whispers. It might not be tomorrow or a year from now, but he is hopeful that everything will sort itself out eventually.
When it comes to mewithoutYou, nothing is ever truly finished. That seems to be one of the main themes running through [Untitled], even in the title – it is unfinished, and in format, acts as a continuation of their debut, [A→B] Life, suggesting that this band is unfinished, they still have more to add to their body of work. In a way, this review will forever be unfinished as well, as with every listen this album reveals something new and interesting that I would love to discuss, and that is the greatest joy the band offers its listeners. You can listen to this album over and over and it still feels fresh.
Sounds Like… The end of one chapter and the beginning of another.