After the release and touring of 2015’s revelationary Pale Horses, mewithoutYou needed to find some space before the apocalypse turned inwards. Vocalist Aaron Weiss relocated to Idaho with his family, a makeshift home studio rig and MIDI keyboard while the rest of his bandmates (including his brother Mike) remained in Philadelphia workshopping new ideas with producer Will Yip. There’s that one saying, you know, that distance makes the heart grow fonder? Well for the genre-defying quintet, distance also made the creativity flow more freely than every before, while some inner-band tensions and relationship strife served as the impetus to untapped creativity and fueled the [Untitled] recording sessions with Yip, yielding 19 new songs (spanning one EP and one LP, both sharing the same name) that showcase the duality within mewithoutYou’s dazzling soundscape.
From the abrasive opener “9:27a.m., 7/29” to the quiet conclusion of “Break on Through (to the Other Side) [Pt. 2]”, [Untitled] is a twelve track odyssey through the best of mewithoutYou’s past, present, and future. The band continually subverts any and all expectations – instead of trying to match the Hum-sized feedback that could fill a plane hanger on first single “Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses),” Weiss plainly casually speaks alongside it. Or there’s the alternate take of “Winter Solstice,” fleshed out and incorporating a little more backbone than its [untitled] companion. mewithoutYou has never been content fitting into just one idea, refusing to be pigeonholed into one particular style or genre. That’s why over their 15+ career the band’s discography has been scattered over a multitude of different styles, themes, and ideas. The ferocious “Another Head For Hydra” is the band’s take on Fugazi – Mike Weiss and Brandon Beaver’s guitar work being the driving force behind Weiss’ Jekyll and Hyde vocal performance, chronicling this planet’s cataclysmic ignorance. “[Dormouse Sighs]” is a slow burning processional march into uncharted turmoil while the post-punk frenzy of “Flee, Thou Matadors!” is rich in vivid imagery of two mad rulers – one fictional and one factual. Weiss’ lyrics, per usual, are heady stuff, consistently blurring the lines between scriptures, folk tales, and his own reality.
[Untitled]’s most illuminating moments happen over the course of a sensational four-song stretch – a segment of music both thrilling and complex, deftly displaying every strength of the band. The one-two punch of “2,459 Miles” and “Wendy and Betsy” showcases both extremes on the mewithoutYou sonic spectrum, while “New Wine, New Skins” swells with an undeniable dread until finally combusting, bringing Vasily Kafanov’s album art to life – each thread reaching their unraveling point, exploding into directionless, colorful chaos. It all tries to recover on the purposefully dense penultimate track, “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.” Waves of crashing cymbals, dissident guitars, screams and shouts constantly shift the focus on the song, as chaos can’t be contained. It’s complemented by the equally dense brisk closer, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)[Pt. 2],” as it brings about a sobering feeling, as the realization dawns on Weiss that he may be slowly succumbing to the same disease as his father.
In a recent interview, Weiss was asked what advice he’d give to himself 15 years ago. His answer surprised me, stating “I don’t think the Aaron Weiss of 15 years ago would’ve listened, so I probably would just save my breath.” Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why mewithoutYou is still creating challenging, genre-defying music 18 years since their inception – the willingness to grow and learn from mistakes and successes, remaining open to change and different beliefs and concepts. Nearly two decades full of every high and low moments, daring risks, and personal struggles have led to [Untitled] – the perfect mewithoutYou record. By taking a more insular approach and pushing for the unknown within each other, the band created its most taxing yet rewarding work ever, an example that it’s not the apocalypse that defines you, rather it’s what you do after the world ends that does.