3 out of 5
Produced by: Daniel Smith
Label: Pine Street
The road to rediscovery. mewithoutYou’s fifth album, Ten Stories, has, befitting that title, a story to tell: an over-arching narrative concerning the train crash of a traveling circus. Buried within, I’m told, are well-read themes and seemingly childish imagery – elephants on trial, and the like – that’s repurposed for complex contemplative concept. Singer / lyricist Aaron Weiss has made a habit of animal references via (generally) religious parables as sources for his previous songs’ tales, so the subject matter itself isn’t new, but conforming it too a longer-form story is. Similarly, we hear pieces from albums’ past: the group’s early, punkier, scratchy-throat post-hardcore; the Brad Wood-produced pop; the indie-warbly folk of their previous album; and yet, Ten Stories knits those pieces together for an evolution on it all, something to weave that history into a cohesive pattern.
When mwY kinda redid Bullet to Binary on their last disc, I played it and the original to a friend, and he – understandably – questioned whether or not it was the same band.
The group, on Ten Stories, seems to be aware of that impression. It’s their first album away from the vaguely Christian Tooth & Nail label; it’s the first album that doesn’t feel like it has nods to faith, using, instead, its story to explore – maybe – freedom and truth and a more open-eyed, less god-fearing variant of faith. But it’s conflicted. I’m likely just not informed enough to get all of the lyrical references it makes, but one of the potential downfalls of many-a theme album – this one included – is that sticking to the narrative foregoes some of the necessary ‘song’ elements: riffs, choruses, the like. Memorable anthems. Meanwhile, the album’s sound – rich and raw in equal parts, thanks to the capably noise-aware production of Daniel Smith – swings between the group’s various identities, kicking off with a track that suggests that mwY have rediscovered how to rock, and keeping up the aggression for a couple of tracks, before it goes back to a cheery, Bright Eyes-y, folk-rock format. Back and forth, intra-song.
There are anthems, and there are plenty of excellent moments here. Moments that got me excited, once more, to hear mewithoutYou – an emotion I was worried about losing with their veering toward cheer on their last two releases. And so though all of these shifts, and this wrapping of the album in meta-text, makes it for an ultimately bumpy ride, it’s good to hear them exploring some of their harsher-edged roots, perhaps in preparation of setting off refreshed on the next leg of their musical journey.