Review Summary: my brother and my sister don't speak to me / but I don't blame them
To start at the end of all stories, “All Circles” carries a quintessential mewithoutYou lyric executed like one of James Blake’s; it is a singular thought captured out of time, with its significance deemed only by itself. “All circles presuppose they’ll end where they begin but only in their leaving can they ever come back around, all circles presuppose.” That’s the kind of lyric that would be a connective piece amidst the narrative of any other mewithoutYou track, like something that jumps out half way through the story but sort of inadvertently lives in the shadow of the rest of the song. We’ve seen this in Weiss’ song writing over and over, in the bags of marijuana he left out on the track, or the money he gave reluctantly to the track, and all your favourites that seemed to fall out of line in their tracks only to be repaired later on. As a lyricist as obsessed with stories and fables as Weiss is, every lyric walks freely into the other and ties itself onto it in a moment of hypocrite bastadry, and yet what “All Circles” does with its words- the most “my brother and my sister don’t speak to me” of all lines- is have them in orbit for three minutes of repetition to create one of ten stories without ever telling it. As the music grows and grows before its simple climax, Weiss seems to be creating a song meant for a listen as instinctive as it is poetic.
“All Circles” may be my favourite mewithoutYou track of all time, which fills me with a shi
tonne of guilt because it replaces a song as contrastingly made as “The King Beetle On A Coconut Estate,” which is a descriptive song that delves the deepest Weiss has into storytelling. Regardless, “All Circles” is sold to me the way any track in the band’s career is; it’s a lyric that sounds placed above the melody, actually moving entirely to it. This is the only impulse I have to go on when it comes to mewithoutYou- the construction of their songs, with Weiss playing the narrator as the constant through what has become an expertly diverse career of punk-cores and psych folk- but no amount of time I pour into having an epiphany over the themes of Ten Stories
, it will still seem, in many ways, the most at ease the band has been, even if it isn’t necessarily the happiest they’ve been. It flows between its stories with the confidence a band five albums in can afford, with the raucous “Grist For The Malady Mill” going tactful into the moody, crisp “East Enders Wives.” Or, if you’d prefer, “Nine Stories” and “Bears Vision” seem the same story separated for air. Whatever connection these songs make for you, it feels done so easily that an album could simply fall out of these guys.
Moments of this ease produce slabs of indie-rock proper for mewithoutYou, which is a first. “Cardiff Giant” is a twinkly alt-rock track, one entirely made out of guitar riffs and a conventional rock set-up, and it finds its way on the album neatly. And yet the confidence we hear on these new, simpler layers seem to do nothing to demystify Ten Stories
, an album much like “All Circles”: never overtly explained, because you’d have to seek out the liner notes to know, really
know, that a song on this album acts as an open dialogue about an owl and a walrus, with both parts read by Weiss. Ten Stories
regains something cryptic through its words, which is what I’d guess it really shares with Catch For Us The Foxes
. For another comparison, it feels as fabled as It’s All Crazy!
but with its themes laid with less explicitly for the animal community: “Allah, Allah, Allah” is a very different look at religion from “Nine Stories,” which captures a desperation rather than the universal clarity of insisting “it’s alright!” in the face of spirituality. “Jacob knows a ladder you can climb” is not a lyric sang for joy, but for a different kind of impulse is captured entirely. Our own Channing Freeman noted that this album’s predecessor carried a solution to its own campfire problem: sing along, be happy, two things this album doesn’t entail in quite the same way- this is, I feel, a dark record, the stories in which Weiss’ animal kingdom gets put on trial and sentenced to hanging- but it remains the work of a band free of inhibition amidst all the soul-searching. In a moment of levity, however, Weiss draws his own comparison between this and the album that came before it, which is that the band will say what it wants to say, basically: “we’ll knead a bit of dough to get by.” Indeed? Ten Stories
is at ease with its ambiguity and style-shifting.
And let’s not forget just how much a feat that is for a song writer who has been helplessly searching since day one. While I think I’ll never quite understand the madcap story behind Ten Stories
, beyond the animals and the circus clown chilling in the corner, I don’t think I’ll ever forget just how circular mewithoutYou are being with it, right down to that amazing meta-inducing ending. “Only in their leaving can they ever come back ‘round” is a little line of self-help for Ten Stories
, as it closes its album by going back to the start and thinking it all through again. Continuity is very much on the mind of this band through their albums, whether it lingers within the broad lyrical aphorisms- you’ll remember “I do not exist” in Brother Sister
- or from album to album. You can call “February 1878” a whole song of its own, separate from “January 1979,” but both linger within the other. On Ten Stories
, I think, there’s another chapter bring written about death from the breakdown on the railroad tracks; Weiss wonders if he’s “already died” on this album and doesn’t know, though some do, “no certainty exists.” What lingers in all mewithoutYou albums, and in the continuity of these two connective songs, is uncertainty, the thinking things through and coming back around. The way a thought changes in time: “sometimes I think all our thoughts are just things and then sometimes all our things are then thoughts.” And so yes, this is rather a traditional mewithoutYou album, because hasn't that term moved beyond what musical styles they play in by now? It makes sense that “All Circles” is how it all closes out, with Weiss, as ever, instinctively working his way towards a thought, and with such absurd confidence that we would think he’d already arrived there. One would think he rather suits the concept-album. He kneads a good adventure, after all.