One of the more compelling narratives mewithoutYou’s career has lent itself to is the band’s quest to find solace in its faith. At first, they seemed utterly lost in it; their first two records, [A-->B] Life and Catch for us the Foxes, are feverish, frantic post-hardcore albums characterized by heavily distorted guitars and Aaron Weiss’s panicked poetry on the conflict of faith in a secular world. They revisited this conflict on Brother, Sister, but with a sense of triumph deftly characterized in its final lyric: “I do not exist, only You exist.” Still, this surrender that made Brother, Sister a record of cathartic victory swallowed It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright. The very title of their fourth LP suggests the born-again zealotry that defines it. Drawing inspiration not from conflict but from joy and folk tales, the post-hardcore sound totally eschewed in favor of Jeff Mangum-esque storytelling and vocalizing. It’s All Crazy! was a hugely divisive record, and more importantly, one that seemed to mark the end of an arc - mewithoutYou were no longer mewithoutYou as we knew them.
Which brings us to Ten Stories, and also begs the question: What will mewithoutYou do having now escaped this narrative that has defined the band for their entire career? Nothing too crazy - Ten Stories finds them as they always have been, playing upon their past without bowing to it, the result being a record that sounds both distinctly theirs and unlike anything they’ve done before. The opener, “February 1878,” is a riff on one of the classics in the band’s back catalog, “January 1979,” but though mewithoutYou have given specific songs sequels before, “February 1878” isn’t a sequel. It has verses with Weiss’s once-prominent wild-sermon delivery, but its riff is lighter; its chorus more demure. “January 1979” details a car crash Weiss witnessed, and the apathy he couldn’t escape from feeling. “February 1878” is about an elephant in a circus train. The link between them is analogous to how Ten Stories fits into mewithoutYou’s catalog. The sound on Ten Stories bears traces of mewithoutYou’s more aggressive roots but is too light to truly align with that phase in their career. At the same time, it’s also nowhere near as insistently folksy as It’s All Crazy! What we have is a wedding between the two eras, a little rugged, but also a little inspiring as Weiss’s intricate lyricism is brought out not over chugging rock or campfire songs but gentle, mostly straightforward indie rock.
And about those lyrics: Ten Stories is what it says it is, a collection of fables populated by animals and Weiss avatars, and though the stories themselves are confusing to make sense of without the aid of liner notes, they’re too well-orchestrated and articulated to glaze over. There’s a dense record here you can make sense of with a little extracurricular effort, but there’s also a powerful one you can simply hear and get. Exemplified in the cyclical closer “All Circles,” Ten Stories is a record whose strength lies in its catchiness. Weiss sings of many things on Ten Stories, but he signs off with one triumphant realization: “All circles presuppose they’ll end where they begin, and only in their leaving can they ever come back round.” It’s a simple message that resounds over the preceding record and is almost too explicit to not apply to the band itself. As mewithoutYou have entered a new phase in their career, “All Circles” reminds us that though they may have arrived at one answer in their journey, they aren’t done searching. And though Ten Stories is packed with worthy additions to mewithoutYou’s catalog (particularly on its wilder second half), Ten Stories is defined by the future it promises. Itmay not be as drop-your-jaw stunning as Brother, Sister or [A-- >B] Life, but it is good - very good, actually. Enough to make you believe that with this new sound, they can create something of that caliber again. Until then, enjoy Ten Stories for what it is. It will reward you. The album is available for purchase HERE. - Adam Downer