mewithoutYou – Ten Stories
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Record Label: Self-Released
Aaron Weiss' imagination has always been rich, but he may have outdone himself this time on his band's (mewithoutYou) latest album. Free from the label constrains of Tooth & Nail, mewithoutYou set out to tackle the concept album, something that excited many fans considering Weiss' vivid and colorful lyricism. But I'd supposed very few, if any, were expecting Weiss and company to portray their eccentric sound through the viewpoint of talking bears, elephants, and more (oh my!). No, this isn't the sequel to The Wizard of Oz, but it is definitely the focal point of mewithoutYou's Ten Stories, arguably their strongest album yet.
There is no doubt that Ten Stories will be the greatest album ever written about talking circus animals surviving a train crash in 19th century Montana. All kidding aside, the lyrical themes presented throughout the eleven tracks are painted with a thick coat of metaphors and vague subtleties. Ten Stories is full of allegories and fables, continuing the trend they started on their last release t’s all crazy! it’s all false! it’s all a dream! it’s alright, only this time they mix in some of the aggression that was present on Brother, Sister.
The album kicks off with the frantic “February 1878,” the sorta-sequel to “January 1979.” The distorted chords and quivering tambourine will set older fans down memory lane. The stop and go vocal pattern of Aaron Weiss' shouts and whispers is a welcomed guest, as it's been a long three years since we've heard his cries of self-loathing and self-inspection. But instead of being so on-the-nose with his lyrics, he explores the usual mwY themes (faith, truth, doubt, misery, life, death, etc.) through the eyes of the album's main characters – the circus animals – giving off the sense that this could be a true collection of fables.
And that's what makes Ten Stories so exciting. Yes, some of the musicianship is similar to album's past, but the way it's presented and executed is a first for the band. The Philly quartet has never sounded so at ease with their craft on this album compared to the rest of their critically-acclaimed discography. They've grown into their sound, realizing they don't necessary have to be loud to be heavy. “Grist for the Malady Mill” manages to be the album's catchiest tune while maintaining a gritty guitar chord amongst the hypnotic chorus. The delicacy of “East Enders Wives” will resonate with you long after you've listened to the album, while “Cardiff Giant” is an exuberant number; resulting in a “shout towards the heavens” style of breakdown. mewithoutYou proves early in Ten Stories that they can switch between genres and tempo changes with ease while keeping the thematic elements cohesive.
This continues with the dramatic “Elephant in the Dock and the soothing nature of “Aubergine.” All of this sets up the album highlight, “Fox's Dream of the Log Flume.” The aggressive track wouldn't sound out of place on Catch For Us The Foxes, as Weiss' signature frenzied cries pace the track. But the difference between the band then and the band now is how they take something so familiar and turn it into something fresh. “Fox's Dream” features beautiful contrast between guest vocalist Hayley Williams' timid vocals and Weiss' crazed yells before disassembling the song into a simple acoustic duet between the two.
I'm not going to dive too deep into Weiss' lyrical content, as one should interpret them in their own way. But I will mention that the nature of the album's theme allows for some playful lyricism at times, which is evident on the upbeat “Fiji Mermaid.” Heavy on the death metaphors, it features an infectious chorus as well as a few puns to air out any self-indulgence the song might've had. But these instances are few and far between on Ten Stories, as the band's fifth studio album features some of their darkest material. The soft horns on “Bear's Vision of St. Agnes” slowly segues into something much more grand, fashioning the penultimate track into some sort of grim beauty.
It's not all despair on Ten Stories however, as “All Circles” closes the album on a triumphant note. Entirely built around the lyric “All circles presuppose they'll end where they begin/But only in their leaving can they ever come back around;” Rickie Mazzotta's drumming gets louder and louder as Williams shows up once again to complement Weiss vocally, ending the album at an exorbitant zenith.
While mewithoutYou is still as ambiguous as ever with their music, they've never been as creative and daring as they are on Ten Stories. Aaron Weiss continues to prove that he has an unique way with words that very few lyricists can match, as he is cleverly vague while maintaining an intimacy with listeners. We benefit as listeners and overall fans of music whenever there's a new mewithoutYou release, as they continue to write music that inspires as much as it challenges.