Review Summary: Ten Stories is a return to form, yet perhaps not the most bombastic movement we've come to expect from Aaron Weiss's poetry-producing machine.
MewithoutYou are a tricky band when it comes to pleasing fans. Beginning as an agressive (yet thoughtful) post-hardcore band, the Judeo-Christian Pennsylvania group has always had something brimming on the surface needing to be released, all from the trademark monotone talk-singing voice of the leading man, Aaron Weiss. So when they began incorporating more indie and folk elements into the mix the fan base had one of two options: hop on the bandwagon and join the ride, or stick their stubbornly blind foot in the ground in the name of genre loyalty. And for those who stuck along for the ride, they were rewarded with the crowning jewel(s) of Brother, Sister
and Catch For Us the Foxes
But when mewithoutYou released their last album, the full-on indie-folk It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All A Dream! It's Alright!
, it was met by most fans with only moderate appreciation. The strong lean toward the folk atmosphere sounded like mewithoutYou was trying
to make it seem like they recorded the album while sitting around a camp fire. Hence, the new release, Ten Stories
is a proposed "return to form," or perhaps "return to mix," and it has some fans itching with anticipation. Ten Stories
is their self-released album that tries to blend the original post-hardcore sensibility with the current admiration for indie and folk foundation. And while it succeeds on quite a few levels, there's also this nagging issue where the band feels like trying too
hard to mix their influences, just like it once sounded like they were trying too
to lean in one direction or the other.
"February, 1878" is a fantastic opening. It is the cumulative response to the post-hardcore-meets-indie vibe they've strived for, and it is also a foil song to their popular "January 1979" from Catch For Us the Foxes
. While it incorporates a similar melody, Weiss sings about a train wreck from the 19th Century rather than a car crash from the 20th, and that begins the supposed theme threaded throughout Ten Stories
. In a similar vein to It's All Crazy!
, some of these songs are told from the viewpoint of animals, but where the former album actually referenced real Sufi mythology, Ten Stories
tends to come up with some situations that Weiss wanted to sing about and animals happen to be the medium, such as the nameless rabbit, fox, bear, walrus and peacock on the catchy "Grist for the Malady Mill." And when it comes to the out-of-place "Aubergine," Weiss finds himself singing about colors, sugars, eggplants, syrups and other stark (yet perhaps misguided) flowery images. Personally, I'm a sucker for definite, concrete imagery, but too much of Ten Stories
sounds like a game of Madlibs where Weiss is just trying to find out newer creative ways of mixing words and images together. And that's probably the most disappointing downfall of the album, because Weiss's charasmatic lyrics and delivery have always been the binding thread throughout mewithoutYou's career.
Still, an arc in the album does exist, and when "Grist For the Malady Mill" seamlessly leads into "East Enders Wives," or when "Bears Vision of St. Agnes" suddenly becomes the closing song "All Circles," there is a wholistic feel to the album that's very much appreciated. Regardless of whether or not Ten Stories
lives up to the potential the fan base knows they're capable of, it at least still shows that the band has a knack for well thought out composition. Songs like "Elephant in the Dock" and "Bears Vision of St. Agnes" transition from softer, reflective pieces to big, emotionally filling finales within themselves. Moments like those are part of what make the album worth it.
"Fox's Dream of the Log Flume" is one of the shining tracks on the album. Just like "February, 1878," it's a proper blend of mewithoutYou's varying genre interests. And when the speaker of the song mistakenly tells his love interest how he fantasizes about pushing children off of ferris wheels, he quicly retracts his statement when he finds out she doesn't feel the same way. It's an interesting look at how we frame ourselves in public, and Paramore's Hayley Williams guest vocals for the first ever male-female duet the band has ever done. Masked against Weiss's grainy talk-singing voice Williams gives a nice balance to the mix. Also, "All Circles" is a proper finish to the album as a whole. The climactic line: "All circles presuppose / They end where they begin / But only in their leaving can they ever come back 'round" sounds like the band comes full "circle," especially with the extravagant chants of choruses.
is certainly a return to form, yet it also lands a little short of the intended target. By blending post-hardcore roots and indie-folk flaires, mewithoutYou have sort of stripped both genres of what worked for them in the first place. (The lack of Weiss's strong story-driven narrative doesn't help the case either.) And while there are illuminating moments worth picking from this new album, the start-to-finish scope lacks the push and guts that Brother, Sister
and Catch for Us the Foxes
once had. And bands shouldn't underestimate guts; guts make music worth listening to in the first place.