If you’re a mewithoutYou fan, you’re used to waiting a while for the next album to come out, only to find it sounds completely different from the last album you’ve grown to love over the past couple years. For me and many others, their 2009 album It’s All Crazy, It’s All False, etc. was a bit of a disappointment. We had just started getting used to the toned down and matured sound that came out of Brother, Sister three years earlier, still coping with the fact that frontman Aaron Weiss can actually sing, rather than just shout poetic wisdom at us through our speakers. And out comes an album full of simplified, almost nursery rhyme-y songs about birds and beetles and all kinds of critters, accompanied by simple sing-song melodies and goofy instrumentation. The true fans swallowed the bitter pill though, and found that despite the band’s dare-I-say dumbed down sound, Weiss had furthered his lyrical genius, fitting elaborate fables into his rigidly metered and rhymed poem-songs in a way that’s unmatched in songwriting. Still, we were nostalgic for the abrasive beats and meditative guitar melodies that used to accompany his wordsmithing, and I have to admit, I missed him screaming for my attention over the raucous. I found myself hoping and praying that this was just a brief derailment from their otherwise smooth ride toward a fully-matured and unique musical style.
And then Bam! the train crashed and spilled all over the place when the first single off their new album Ten Stories hit the web. “February, 1878” in addition to being a nod to their classic first single, is an explosive and corrosive musical embodiment of a violent train crash on a snowy night in the American northwest. I nearly wept for joy when I heard Weiss’s dearly missed raspy roaring in my ears as he describes the scene to the most minute detail, as only he can. Then once the din died down, i was delighted to hear his brother’s dark and sweeping guitar carry the tone all the way to the contented conclusion. I was convinced that the old mewithoutYou was back in full swing. However, as I continued down the tracklist, I heard remnants of the more melodic tones that they had experimented with on It’s All Crazy, but more thought-out and complex than anything that album had to offer. Believe it or not, they’ve perfectly blended the old with the new and come up with something completely different and more diverse than any of their albums thus far. The contrast is most apparent in the back-to-back placement of the bright and boisterous “Cardiff Giant” and the dark and desperate “Elephant in the Dock.” Each end of the spectrum is explored even further as the album goes on, from the wispy and whimsical “Aubergine” to the sluggish dejectedness of “Bear’s Vision of St. Agnes,” all coming together in the exultant final fugue “All Circles.” It seems an appropriate end to an album where a band has come full-circle, embracing the new direction they had ventured into while sticking to the sound they pioneered in the first place. This album is a great listen for fans as well as those who have never heard the band before. I eagerly recommend Ten Stories to everyone.