Review Summary: Thoughts, and things.
In a decade like the 2010s, where it seems like everything that could possibly be said through music has already been penned, chancing upon a piece as enlightening as Ten Stories
is the musical equivalent of discovering your favorite author/poet/philosopher and wondering how you ever made sense of life beforehand. They’re basically the seven wise men of hardcore turned indie-rock, with a great deal of that credit going to front man Aaron Weiss for his creative role in the songwriting process. We’ve seen mewithoutYou deliver the urgent, spewed shouts of a madman during the final months of a global apocalypse via Brother, Sister
, as well as happy-go-lucky, campfire fable sing-alongs that would not be out of place at a church picnic on It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright
. Simply put, these guys write what they want to, when they want to. However, if the aforementioned releases represent extreme ends of their artistic capabilities, then Ten Stories
is the album that sees them rest back into their chairs and simply observe
, crafting in the process the most pensive, intellectual album of their careers that reads like an indie-rock philosopher’s take on modern times.
Of course, like any great poetry, Ten Stories
is ripe with metaphors and various allusions that require a great deal of analysis and interpretation – after all, this isn’t really
an album about a bunch of animals that escaped from a wrecked circus train (for a full disambiguation, listen to the whole record with the lyrics pulled up and draw your own conclusions). My favorite reference point has always been ‘Elephant In The Dock’, which is about – among a multitude of items – society’s hatred for that which they cannot understand, including but not limited to God and religion (or any higher purpose/deity, for argument’s sake). In this story, the elephant can possibly represents knowledge and/or that said higher purpose, as he poses probing thoughts such as “for sixty-so years I've surrendered my love to emblems of kindness, and not the kindness they were emblems of”; only to have an angry mob call for him to be hung. As the rabble prepares for his execution, the wise elephant gets in another particularly telling passage: “this mock trial can no more determine my lot, than can driftwood determine the ocean's waves” – a line that has directly led to comparisons with C.S. Lewis’ God In The Dock
, a collection of speeches and essays that speculate modern human beings, rather than seeing themselves as standing before God in judgment, instead place God on trial while acting as his
judge…implying more of a “God In The Dock.” Whether you interpret it as an assault on knowledge by the ignorant or an attack on religion by the immoral, ‘Elephant In The Dock’ is one of the most thought-provoking and ethically compelling tracks ever written by mewithoutYou.
‘Fox’s Dream Of The Log Flume’ marks another particularly intense philosophical juncture, waxing poetic about certainty and its implications on the human psyche. At one point, Weiss exclaims “though some, with certainty, insist 'no certainty exists' – well I'm certain enough of this: in the past 14 years, there's only one girl I've kissed” with fervor; a mess of ideas on the surface but not anything unworthy of being untangled. It’s likely no accident that the track falls in such close proximity to ‘Elephant In The Dock’ (only one track separates them), as knowledge, religion, and certainty all exist on the same imaginary plane of ideas. Seeming unsure about the idea of certainty is in itself a bit of an oxymoron, one that Weiss – unsurprisingly given his public admission of Christian faith – once again applies to the concept of whether or not there is a God: “So by now I think it's pretty obvious that there's no God…and there's definitely a God!” It’s worth noting that he expresses equal certainty in both instances: first that he’s only kissed one girl, and second that there is definitely
a God. Even though one can be proven and one can’t, they are both facts based on his perception. It’s a bit dizzying in premise, made all the more maddening (and appropriate) by the fact that the song never really gets to the bottom of the religiously based questions that it poses. Claims of certainty aside, ‘Fox’s Dream Of The Log Flume’ exudes total uncertainty about everything. Hayley Williams’ backing vocals are stunning here though, and that’s for certain.
Each track on here serves as its own parable of sorts, hence the title Ten Stories
. Firmly entrenched in melodic indie-rock, the band shows a clear departure from both the hardcore stylings of [A→B] Life
/Catch For Us The Foxes
as well as the all-out Sunday school blitzkrieg that was It’s All Crazy, It’s All False…
. Despite their rocky navigation of genres, mewithoutYou have always remained relevant because of their lyrics, and that aspect of their music is perhaps never stronger than it is on Ten Stories
. For avid enthusiasts of words
and their impact, this album is practically essential – each song is a little piece of knowledge, expressed through a variety of literary devices that would make even your most dismissive inner philosopher pleased. mewithoutYou aren’t without a sense of irony however, as they present an eleventh “story” that ruins what could have been a direct correlation between tracklisting and album title. ‘All Circles’ wraps things up with the repetition of two sentences, yet they serve as one of the band’s most intriguing thoughts over the entire course of the record: “All circles presuppose they'll end where they begin…but only in their leaving can they ever come back around.” This is sung over and over, or cyclically, until Ten Stories
ends and the album picks back up where it began. Clever bastards.