Review Summary: Do you pay regular visits to yourself? Don’t argue or answer rationally. Let us die, and dying, reply.
“I haven’t been reading much these days. As a matter of fact, I’m getting rid of most of my books,“ (Aaron) said. He pulled out a large suitcase filled with books. "Take whatever you want.”
- All the Clever Words on Pages
It’s ironic that for an album that depicts mewithoutYou at their most content, most of what I remember from the period in this band’s career is outrage. To be fair, when a post-hardcore band announces an acoustic tour, fans even looking for songs to be played from mewithoutYou’s previous record would likely come away miffed – what good is an acoustic version of O Porcupine. But such was the times with mewithoutYou, who after forming their first opus, decided they had enough with that scream-talk stuff, threw away their most potent weapon and instead went off to create a folk album.
And hence was formed “It’s All Crazy! It’s all False! It’s all a Dream! It’s Alright” mewithoutYou’s practical joke album, or well, it would be, if it surprisingly weren’t actually pretty damn alright.
“It’s all Crazy!” depicts Aaron at his most faithful, and funny enough, the band at its most sure up to this point. Certainly, Aaron Weiss celebrated the losing of his identity at the end of Brother, Sister as the band reached its final truth, and they will work their way around to celebrate the same truth several times in this album, but who would expect them to actually go ahead and lose their identity as a band? Aaron Weiss, whose voice audibly quivered in his spare singing moments in Catch Us For the Foxes, now confidently presents himself as singer/songwriter. What was once the stark backing appropriate for a hardcore band is now filled with accordions, violins, bells, horns and goddamn about every single jovial sounding instrument the band could play or hire someone to.
In a sense, “It’s All Crazy!” is mewithoutYou’s worship album, following in the proud Christian songwriting tradition of keeping songs simple so the congregation would join along. Or in this case, whatever ragtag team of hippie Christ followers would join Aaron around a campfire. Six songs here either end in a singalong or are meant to be a singalong the entire time. Granted, no church I know would bring out “The Angel of death Came to David’s Room” a four minute meditation on the final minute of Sufjan Steven’s “Fourth of July”, nor would they bring out “Cattail Down” which not only celebrates the losing of identity, but rejoices in the fact that you never had an identity in the first place. And certainly, no one but Aaron Weiss could do justice to the epic “A Beetle at Coconut Estate” but praising the titular character’s suicide as the example of giving oneself to God is just a tad edgy for most.
Really, Aaron hasn’t moved much philosophically here. His lyrics are more ornate than they’ve ever been, but Aaron finds himself fascinated (and probably delighted) with all matter of puns and clever twists of phrases as opposed to philosophical wandering. They’re largely about food, which there’s a lot of us in this album. He’s again speaking in parables, but they now include speaking potatoes, and eggplants and cabbages, along with his cast of feathered and furry friends. If Aaron Weiss was winking, as I posed, in "Brother, Sister", he’s having a full-on laugh now.
It’s notable that “It’s All Crazy!” is also Aaron’s most detached album, with true mention of himself really only happening twice, during a brief moment in “Timothy Hay”, where he’s arrested during an anti-war protest – giving up himself for a cause - and the entire duration of “Cattail Down”, which details a time in his life when he walked away from working, family, etc. and decided to just hop trains for a while. They both are, in the end, two more parables about the losing of oneself.
The assuredness and ease he now finds within himself and his philosophies allow the band to push bravely ahead in experimentation. One would describe this album as the band leaving their comfort zone, but they just sound so damn comfortable in it. Within it are still their most ambitious creations to this day. The ever-shifting “Bullet to the Binary Pt. 2”, where the band shifts from punk-folk to a crawling and foreboding acoustic number before ending with a fearsome but oddly uplifting climax to “A Beetle at Coconut Estate” which is downright an orchestral composition before it reaches its end. My favorite moment in the whole record is still “Every Thought A Thought Of You,” a downright simple creation before Aaron jarringly bursts out into an Arabic chant and the band bursts loose with him, showing exactly what kind of wild ride the album is going to be.
And certainly this might be some bizarre folk album but the band has by no means wiped the slate clean. The band’s understanding of dynamics and climax, having to account for Aaron’s vocal rigidity back in the day, leads them to the adaptability needed to bring even simple folk creations into thrilling climax, and Aaron’s years of adventures in the spoken word still follow him into this album, his lyrics as verbose and winding as ever, and he chases them around every corner with an almost manic delight.
Not that every song here works. A “Fig with a Bellyache” brims with confidence, cheer and adventure as do most numbers here, but it only serves to be abrasive and uncomfortable before it shifts to a melody incredibly flat. “A Stick, a carrot & String” too finds its far-too-simple Christ in the manger narrative marred by an instrumental accompaniment that is competent but far more complacent than anything else found in the album. But even these failures show the band fearlessly pushing its boundaries, both in simplicity and in maximalism and every approach in between.
Whoever contributed to the Genius page for “Beetle at Coconut Estate” offers an interpretation of it I didn’t personally glean but still find compelling, stating there are two possible readings of the song. The one I depicted above, praising the sacrifice of self for communion with God, and a second, where the fire is just part of the physical world, that the beetle mistakes as God, leading to a realization that “all means of understanding God are ultimately misguided and self-destructive”. That second interpretation would be a stunning rebuke to the self-assuredness of the rest of the album and also a powerful and frighteningly accurate foreshadowing of the crisis of faith that is fast approaching Aaron. More than the outrage from the fans, the other irony following this album is even more telling, with the band making the news at the time when their most confidently religious album was pulled from Christian stores because the last song contained the word “Allah”. It’s the perfect example of a Christian scene that was a tad too shallow and simple to really understand the band (who has included Arabic sections in all four of their albums at this point) and, appropriately enough, a fitting representation of the time the band left the scene. Both of these examples foretell of the same conclusion: mewithoutYou would never make any album easily characterized as Christian again after this.
But what would follow mewithoutYou out of this album is the growth they found in it. Aaron would bring his trademark vocal style back into the next album, but never again would his hardcore style ever take up the majority of a record. By leaving their identity behind for “It’s All Crazy!” the band became masters at a more melodic take on indie rock. It allows them to re-emerge as a truly multi-faceted band, giving them flexibility in their artistry few other bands could enjoy as they combine both styles into one. To borrow a phrase from Sowing, “It’s All Crazy!” is the calm before the storm and with its closing mewithoutYou enter the most accomplished and powerful phase of their career.