Review: mewithoutYou – [Untitled]

I feel like everyone prefaces mewithoutYou’s music in the same way that I’m about to. I apologize if this is redundant, but learning the backstory of main lyricist Aaron Weiss is an imperative step in making any sense of this band and their music, which, to the outside, seems to be from another world.

Aaron and his brother, Michael, had an intensely religious upbringing. Their father followed Jewish teachings and their mother followed Episcopal teachings before eventually converting to Sufi Islam. It’s no wonder then, in their artistic outputs, that all of these ideas and more come out. I think this is part of what makes mewithoutYou fit into so many categories. So much religious diversity means that no one is left out – which is also part of the message that mewithoutYou aims to spread.

You can buy or stream [Untitled] on Apple Music.

It took seven albums for mewithoutYou to finally throw up their hands and say, “We don’t know what to call this.” Pretty impressive that it took that long, if you ask me. But for something with no definitive name, this album hits you hard. If you’re not taking a deep dive into the lyrics (and if you aren’t, why?), this album moves fast. There were times when I put it on mindlessly in preparation for writing this and was surprised when it started again. “Lyrical detective” should be a job, and there should be a whole department devoted to mewithoutYou.

I’d like to make the proposition of [Untitled] being A to B Life’s younger brother. Genetically similar with the same attitude, but different enough that no one can mistake the two. This new album is harder than either of the past two they released. It doesn’t even follow the same lyrical patterns of the past two. The last albums have been whimsical and, for the most part, easy to listen to. Aaron decided to look at the tougher side of his religion in [Untitled].

I want to try to go into every track in this album, because it’s so rich and detailed. It would be wrong of me to pretend like I understand every reference and every idea that is brought before me in the album, because I don’t. Like I said, there’s a lot to process, but I hope you’ll take the time to try. I’ll do what I can here, and I hope it can start a discussion.

***

So Aaron’s gone a little bit doom and gloom with the first track, “9:27a.m., 7/29”. He talks about whether salvation is a lasting experience or whether it can be taken away. He talks about the state of current events and laments, ”It’d be a pearl of a time now for a virgin birth”.

“Julia (or, ‘Holy to the Lord On the Bells of Horses’)” is a lovely example of their call to societal unity. He paraphrases Rumi in the first verse: “‘Out beyond ideas of right and wrong is a field / Will I meet you there?” Again at the end of the verse, “So many ways to lose / So many faiths”. A fitting first single — both from a professional sense and a cultural one.

“Another Head for Hydra” is about the influence we have on those around us and the example we’ve set for our children. Aaron talks about fame and how that changes us. He warns us about the dangers of materialism and worrying about a worldly perception that fame and social recognition can bring.

Sonically, two of my favorite tracks are “[dormouse sighs]” and “Winter Solstice”. They’re lyrically interesting, but I can’t really draw any concrete conclusions on what they mean for myself yet. But from a stylistic standpoint, they’re both wonderful. The former is just classic mewithoutYou and sounds like home. The latter, though, is sung in such a soothing and lilting way that reminds me of the mewithoutYou that I fell in love with. I started listening religiously (pardon the pun, I suppose) when Ten Stories was released.

“Flee, Thou Matadors” is written from the perspective of Ferdinand VIII and Isabella, king and queen of Spain. Historically, he’s known as one of the worst kings, while his wife, Isabella, was religious to the extreme. The spin that mewithoutYou puts on the story is the battle of good (Isabella) and evil (Ferdinand) they face as humans in everyday life.

There’s a lot of talk about responsibility in this album. This is seen in “Tortoises All the Way Down”, which is about how actions have consequences and is kind of Ecclesiastical, honestly. The mistakes we make will be made again at some point in history.

“2,459 Miles” and “Wendy and Betsy” are kind of a new direction for the band in the sense that they’re relatable. In the first, Aaron’s talking from the perspective of tour and being away from home and missing his family. In the second, he talks about his wife. They’re great tracks just in themselves but also (strangely enough) they’re a reminder that Aaron is a real live human. I think we all get so caught up in how head-in-the-clouds Aaron usually is as a songwriter that we can forget he has a real life away from mewithoutYou.

“New Wine, New Skins” brings up something that older Christians say a lot: ”God willing”. Aaron says, “‘God’s will’ or ‘come what fortune gives’ / Or is this truly how you’d choose to live / Managing the narrative”, as almost a taunt to his fellow believers about their (lack of) faith.

“Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”, while also being a paramount spiritual in the hymnal, is a heavy track in which, like in the first track, Aaron wonders about his eternal state, as well as the eternal state of his family. He sings in the last line: “Have you heard from heaven today? / Tell me then, what’d Gabriel say? / Am I still on that narrow way?”

***

It’s fitting that the last line of this album is “Someday I’ll find me”. Throughout each track, Aaron has gone to each of the spiritual struggles he’s facing and dealt with them head on.

“Someday I’ll find me” is such a poignant way to end that search. Did he succeed? I think that when we take a deep look into ourselves and see who we truly are and who we’re becoming, it brings up more questions than what we bargained for. Maybe that’s why the album is [Untitled]. Maybe it’s because Aaron found more than what he planned – and maybe he didn’t like it.

If you have the time and perseverance to take a real look at this album, I think you’ll find what I found. I, like Aaron, have to take that look at myself and decide where I stand with the issues that plague society, the issues that I see in my personal life that affect only myself and those close to me. That’s what I love the most about mewithoutYou. They always force me to turn the lyrics right back onto myself and do some self-reflection. Sometimes, I don’t like what I find, but it’s okay, because the art that mewithoutYou creates is a reminder that I’m not alone not liking what I find within my heart, and I’m not alone in that I want to be better. Someday, I’ll find me.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Advertisements