Review Summary: A welcome nod to past ideas.
As a devout mewithoutYou fan I have to admit I was kind of taken aback by the band’s previous album when I first heard it. Their decision to do away with their signature brand of post-hardcore in favour of folksy, baroque-pop numbers initially seemed like an ill-conceived plan, and even though they managed to ruffle some feathers in changing their style, the fanciful whimsy of It’s All Crazy! It’s All False!...
eventually had a spellbinding hold on me. See, despite some of the criticisms fans of the band lobbed at It’s All Crazy! It’s All False...
for being uninspired, a miscalculated ode to campfire sing-alongs (this is my personal favourite), etc., that album proved a pivotal point to all of the naysayers: mewithoutYou is a band incapable of being pigeonholed. They’ve been drastically changing their core sound from album to album, but their previous one marked a stark departure: all of a sudden, the band that brought us the emotionally charged [A--> B] Life
was playing in the vein of Neutral Milk Hotel, and people were stunted. Aaron Weiss, a man once entrenched in writing on themes of loss and pain, was writing about fictional portrayals of insects and animals. Aside the quizzical nature of it all, the only real carryover seemed to be the religious connotations in the lyrics. It was unlikely that they’d keep to the fantastical storytelling angle of It’s All Crazy! It’s All False!...
though - they’re a band discontent with sticking to the same formula. So, the question seems like an obvious one: Where have the beloved purveyors of post-hardcore decided to go this time?
Well, answering that is a little tricky. Ten Stories
is an allegorical representation of a fictional train crash filled with circus animals in 19th century Montana. Lead single and first song “February 1878” illustrates the story of this circus train being derailed in the icy Pacific Northwest by an elephant. The album chronicles the tales of select characters as they seek refuge and figure out what to do in the aftermath of said wreckage. So, while it already sounds like it sets itself up to be another whimsical tale that’ll no doubt play out similarly to their previous record, it’s a surprisingly welcome nod to past ideas. Contrary to what’s been circulating via the net, Ten Stories
sounds nothing like [A--> B] Life
or Brother, Sister
, but songs like “February 1878” and “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume” unmistakably hearken back to the days of Catch For Us the Foxes
I like to think of Ten Stories
as an album divided into two halves: the first half being very pop-centric (barring “February 1878”), and the latter being a revisitation of some of mewithoutYou’s post-hardcore roots, as well as a plunge into a more atmospheric mood. The album opens up with a nod to mewithoutYou’s heavier stuff, otherwise tracks two through six are maddeningly infectious and peppy. It’s an interesting divide: “Grist for the Malady Mill” is bar-none the catchiest song in the band’s repertoire to date, what with its propulsive drumming and chorus shouts: ‘Ain’t it an awful shame?/Don’t it just break your heart to hear so much pain!?” - if it weren’t so poppy it would sound like a raucous pub number. Elsewhere, the poppier songs are either hit or miss, and the consensus is bound to be that the latter half of the album is better. “Elephant in the Dock” is sullied by a disappointingly bland chorus and “Cardiff Giant” trods gaily along without much notice, despite the lovely guitar work -- it’s a little too breezy for its own good. Ten Stories
doesn’t truly hit its stride and urge on until “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume,” when we’re treated to the edgier side of mewithoutYou we’ve all come to know and love, and even though nothing ever quite compares to it, the latter half of the album is chock-full of vocal harmonies, jubilant horns, and stepped-up guitar riffing. Every song is different and engaging in its own right. "Bear's Vision of St. Agnes" opens with horns that sound like they were lifted from some silent noir film and eventually the song segues into a gorgeous conclusion of horns, strings, and vocal corals. "Aubergine" is the slow-trod centrepiece of the album: it's airy, atmospheric, and just generally soothing. There's enough variance on Ten Stories
to attract a large audience.
Aaron Weiss is still as skillful a songwriter as he’s ever been, and he hammers lines with a deft display of conviction. Although Ten Stories
is a fictional concept record revolving around an absurdly quirky premise that ultimately sees Weiss stepping outside of the persona he’s created for himself, the struggle with accepting God is an ongoing and integral part of his writing, subtle as it may seem even when he’s omitting the veil: “I don’t know if I know/Though some with certainty insist no certainty exists!” (“Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume”). Weiss still employs the use of metaphor in his writing, but Ten Stories
seems like a great middle-ground between the old and the new; Weiss never comes across as suffocatingly abstract or reminiscent, it’s seemingly a perfect blend. Songs like “Elephant in the Dock,” “Nine Stories,” and “Cardiff Giant” might detract from the album’s momentum, but Ten Stories
is undeniably an acceptable and wholeheartedly enjoyable segue from It’s All Crazy! It’s All False!