mewithoutYou
Pale Horses


4.0
excellent

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
June 17th, 2015 | 1114 replies


Release Date: 06/16/2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Songs of slow decline? No, not quite yet.

mewithoutYou recorded Pale Horses about ten minutes away from my old Philadelphia apartment. It’s still odd to see Studio 4 in Conshohocken listed in the album sleeve, and even weirder to hear the band name-check suburban towns like Coatesville in the lyrics. They’ve always been a group synonymous with home for me, possessing both geographical and emotional proximity. I can still recall watching them open for Brand New/Thrice back in 2007 at the Electric Factory, and I immediately recognized that they weren’t your typical band. It might have been the way Aaron Weiss approached the fans, wearing raggy clothing and grinning a goofy smile during the setup just before he brought down the house with a performance that arguably toppled that of the headlining acts. Perhaps it was that the band stuck around to perform an encore with Lacey and Kensrue, capping what could only be described as the most blissful moment of my life. Maybe it didn’t truly sink in until the end of the show, when I saw them hanging out behind the venue just to chat with eager fans. Whatever it was, I admired the hell out of them. I thought to myself, now there’s a band that really cares about what they do. The eight years to follow would only reaffirm that initial assessment, as they’ve gone on to earn a reputation as one of the most committed and passionate groups in alternative music.

When I say that mewithoutYou isn’t your typical band though, it feels like the understatement of the century. I mean, Aaron Weiss eats out of trash cans (as part of a freegan lifestyle, of course). He rarely showers. The band’s tour bus runs on vegetable oil. I didn’t know any of that back in 2007, but if I did it only would have made me like them more. They’re the living embodiment of only taking what you need, and Weiss has even said on-record that he makes too much money being in a band…with a straight face, no less. It’s just how he and his fellow bandmates operate; they’re driven by their religious beliefs and an ambition to help others. Currently, Weiss is finishing his thesis on the intersection of faith and education for his doctorate in urban education, all the while serving as a professor at his alma mater, Temple University. Not bad for a dumpster-diving hippie. Besides, if living like a homeless person while ambitiously pursuing academia is the secret to over a decade of phenomenal music, then I say it ought to be the new standard by which all musicians conduct themselves.

Now six albums into their career, Pale Horses is unquestionably the most challenging thing that they’ve ever put out. It’s not because it leaps into uncharted territory, as it is actually their most representative album to date – landing somewhere between the coarse shouting of Catch For Us the Foxes and the campfire singalongs of It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright. To say a record is “challenging” carries a boat load of implications, and not all of them are bad. Like a classic movie or novel, Pale Horses reveals itself in layers. To listen to any mewithoutYou record is to accept the premise that the art of expression and poetry of lyrics are just as valuable as the music itself, which means that it takes several listens to fully appreciate. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time I heard ‘Mexican War Streets’ that the lines, “I admit, it warms my heart to watch your world fall apart” and “To heck with all the drugs my parents did” really jumped out at me. Simple but heartbreaking passages like “Can you take the form of my dead father / because I think he would’ve liked to meet my wife / and I know for a fact he would’ve liked my wife” from ‘Dorothy’ practically reduced me to tears, and I’ve been listening to Aaron Weiss for a while now. That’s part of what’s so impressive about Pale Horses – even though it’s basically the quintessential mewithoutYou record, it still manages to catch you off guard.

Pale Horses also marks some of the band’s most impressive instrumental accomplishments. Take the pair of closers, ‘Birnam Wood’ and ‘Rainbow Signs’, for example. The former is marked by intriguing tempo shifts while the electric guitar riffs of the latter emit the energy of that H-bomb that Weiss so delicately sang about mere moments prior. It’s the kind of stuff we never would have heard on this album’s predecessor Ten Stories, an outing that resided primarily in the realm of harmonious indie-rock. There’s also the way that ‘Lilac Queen’ goes from sounding delicate and fragile into a full-blown cacophony, during which Pontius-Pilate (for you Bible aficionados), the ISIS flag, and a vulture man are all referenced. As you can see, Weiss’ penchant for strangely intriguing symbolism wasn’t lost on Pale Horses. There’s plenty to be explored on this record in terms of the band’s technical growth, especially for those who are used to mewithoutYou’s soft-of-late approach between It’s All Crazy… and Ten Stories.

On the other side of the coin, there are some clearly challenging aspects of Pale Horses that actually do it a disservice. Outside of lead single ‘Red Cow’ and the peaceful late album gem ‘Magic Lantern Days’, not much here resonates melodically. Obviously, that’s a poor reason not to delve further into an album’s intricacies, especially when the band behind it is just as renowned for their words as they are for the music they play. However, the lyrics are (for the most part) more cryptic than they’ve ever been, which is saying a lot when you consider that Aaron Weiss regularly waxes poetic about the conundrum of human existence and utilizes animals to tell stories like they’re his own personal fables. Lines like “go search the world beneath, cladding breach at 3-mile beach, all spent fuel pools are full, it's all the same to me” are a little overcooked. The lyrics aren’t what’s wrong though, as I’ve already pointed out that they’re more or less up to par with the group’s standards. This album simply fails to grab you the way that a mewithoutYou record should, and that boils down to something that may be frustratingly elusive at first.

The strength of every mewithoutYou album has always been Aaron Weiss’ ability to take a passage, deeply poetic or incredibly simple, and make it sound like the most important thing you’ve ever heard. Often, that could be credited to the way he’d spew out messages, like on Brother, Sister when he shouted “one day the water’s gonna wash it away!” and we immediately believed him. God might as well have been flooding the Earth to rid it of evil, because that’s how convincing Aaron was in his demeanor. That level of passion hasn’t always required raucousness though, as even gentler verses like “I don't know anything about truth but I know falsehood when I see it" from Ten Stories’ ‘Elephant In The Dock’ were equally as stirring. However, on Pale Horses, Aaron Weiss finally sounds worn out. The lyrics are still excellent of course, but they’re not executed with the same fervor that we’re all used to hearing from him. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect so much out of him, especially considering that he’s done nothing but inspire us for over a decade. However, aside from the combo of ‘Red Cow’ and ‘Dorothy’, there’s not all that much on Pale Horses that’s going to make a deep impact without forcing one to make tremendous work out of interpreting the lyrics. As graceful as the words are, the messages often feel lost.

Pale Horses is already drawing comparisons to mewithoutYou’s benchmark record Brother, Sister, which if you listen to them side-by-side feels a little premature. Pale Horses can’t match that album’s energy or lyrical prowess, even if it employs a similar stylistic approach. However, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a superb record. After all, comparing mewithoutYou’s new release to their previous output is sort of like pitting DaVinci’s paintings against one another; they’re all excellent, it’s just a matter of picking apart minor details. In this case, Pale Horses easily stands on its own as one of the year’s better albums. It entails almost all of the band’s greatest strengths, with the vigor that comes from a renewed focus on the post-hardcore stylings of yesteryear. It’s not mewithoutYou’s best album, but it shows no major cracks in the band’s unbelievably strong foundation. So when Aaron Weiss sings “pale horse songs of slow decline” to open and close the record, we can still smirk to ourselves and think no, not quite yet.




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Comments:Add a Comment 
ProjectFreak
June 17th 2015


2184 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

You pretty much nailed how I feel about this album, except I don't know if I can give it a 4 in good conscience. Your writing continues to inspire, Sowing.

YourDarkAffected
June 17th 2015


1768 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Sowing, I think this may be your best review to date. This really captured me reading it and I pretty much agree with your criticisms, as much as I don't want to admit it.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 17th 2015


25040 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7 | Sound Off

@ProjectFreak: Thanks, you're way too kind in saying that. But yeah I like this less than most people seem to, but it's still mwY so it's amazing.



@LivingThrowaway: I think it's a little bit tongue-in-cheek, in the album sleeve they have hell crossed out with "heck" written in its place. They proceed to drop the f-bomb later in the album.



Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 17th 2015


39430 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

THREW A MUTE CURSE AT THE BOISE SKY FOR MY FUCKED UP NAPOLEON OF ST HELENA HAIRLINE



great stuff as always Sowing but I honestly can't see what you mean about Aaron sounding worn out - he sounds more passionate than he has in ten years on here

Digging: The Used - The Canyon

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 17th 2015


25040 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7 | Sound Off

@YourDarkAffected: Thanks man, that's greatly appreciated! Yeah, it wasn't easy for me to admit this album's flaws either seeing as this is one of my top 5 bands.



@Rowan: Thank you...and I knew everyone wouldn't agree with that assertion, but it's truly what I feel after listening to this album countless times. I probably rewrote this review like five or six times, and it changed anywhere from a 3.5 to almost a 5 lol.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 17th 2015


39430 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm still in denial and insisting this is their best album come at me

Arcade
Staff Reviewer
June 17th 2015


8453 Comments


i'm gonna jam Brother, Sister later and might follow it up with this. the single Toondude showed me didn't impress me too much tho.

dandy review tho sictransitgloria

Digging: King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard - Polygondwanaland

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 17th 2015


25040 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7 | Sound Off

@Rowan: Haha...dude, go listen to the first few tracks of Brother, Sister then come back to this and tell me he sounds just as energized.



@Arcade: Thank you! Yeah, check out B,S first...it's their magnum opus. Then I'd say check out Ten Stories or Foxes, followed by this.

Toondude10
June 17th 2015


11627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

was hoping the rating would be higher :/



aw well, good review anyways. This album ruled.

Digging: Face The King - Once More Is All I Am

YourDarkAffected
June 17th 2015


1768 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Ironically, the biggest thing for me is how impenetrable a lot of the lyrics seem to be, despite them being some of Aaron's most unguarded. Maybe he's just so up and above my intellect that I can't decipher what he's talking about, but he didn't have to be as cryptic on Brother, Sister to still convey his thoughts in an awesome way. I do love a lot of the lyrics on this album, and hopefully they'll grow as I dig into them more, but I wish he lightened up a little on the specific locations and poetic to the point of unintelligible lines.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 17th 2015


39430 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

B,S is one of the best albums ever jordy bro



@Sowing energy-wise maybe not but you can't deny his passion is unbridled - his screams on Mexican/Red Cow are by far the most powerful vox he's ever done

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 17th 2015


25040 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7 | Sound Off

@Toondude: Yeah a lot of people will agree with you, but I couldn't go higher than a 4 and stay loyal to how I truly feel about this. Besides, a 4 is excellent! I've only rated a handful of albums that high this year.



@YourDarkAffected: I 100% agree with your analysis.



@Rowan: Yeah, he's still passionate, just not nearly to the degree as I've heard in the past. Putting Mexican War Streets or Red Cow up against the ending to Wolf Am I! (And Shadow), I still say I can hear the drop off. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but whatever.

treos777
June 17th 2015


268 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Great review! I agree that Aaron does sound worn out but I think that is what makes this album so effective. It is Aaron vulnerable and tired this time around. As opposed to all the times we've seen him passionate, angry, joyful, this time it is just... "this is how I feel about stuff but it all goes away anyway so *deep sigh*" or at least this is how I read it haha . But yeah I can see how this could be viewed as a negative. I'm really enjoying the lyrics but that might have something to do with how they reference a lot of things I had to study this year. Still a great review really like it when reviews talk to the personal impact an album makes, the starting paragraphs really put me in your shoes. Awesome writing.

YourDarkAffected
June 17th 2015


1768 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

That said I love the music and return to shouting on this album. This would be a 4 for me if Rainbow Signs wasn't so fucking awesome and didn't end the album on such a high note.

Toondude10
June 17th 2015


11627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

^ Exactly. That song is just...



Also I do believe that this is the shortest MWY album to date if I'm not mistaken

YourDarkAffected
June 17th 2015


1768 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah, or if it's not the shortest it does seem to fly by quickly. Maybe because it flows so well and the pace hardly ever dies down.

treos777
June 17th 2015


268 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Also I think he really wanted to mold his voice to the songs a lot more which could be a factor in how much they stand out or not.

Yeah I'm pretty sure it is the shortest, it's very compact compared to the others. No loose outros or at least not as many as on older records.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 17th 2015


25040 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7 | Sound Off

@treos: Thank you so much, glad you enjoyed the review. I agree with what you're saying too, the lyrics are still great and he's incapable of not sounding passionate, but there is a degree to which it feels like he's going through the motions because, like, how many albums can you make in which you fully bear your soul with undying fervor?



@YourDarkAffected: I definitely like the return to shouting as well. The last couple albums were a nice change up, but it was time to bring it back.

Toondude10
June 17th 2015


11627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

This is one of my favorite albums of the year so far alongside GY!BE and Kamelot.

treos777
June 17th 2015


268 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

In a recent interview he did say that after each album he's thought "never again" . Here's the quote: “Every time we finish one, I’m so grateful and I tell myself ‘never put yourself through that again.’ I am getting old, and I’m not as cool or as handsome or whatever when I look in the mirror.” - Aaron



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