Quintessential post-hardcore desperation
The latest mewithoutYou album, which could be considered a late-career highlight, is everything a post-hardcore album should be: overflowing with despair and aggression (often both simultaneously) and flawlessly balancing Aaron Weiss’s poetic anguish with slowly-escalating guitar riffs which convey a sense of vast, uncontrollable emotion.
The opener, “9:27a.m., 7/29,” sets a furious tone of distress which persists in “Julia” (albeit in a more subdued and catchy way) and “Another Head for Hydra,” whose seductive, winding melody is shattered by bursts of motor-mouthed shouting, a vocal style which evokes Isaac Brock’s from Modest Mouse.
The fourth track, “[dormouse sighs],” marks an emotional shift; Weiss seems to become disheartened, no longer attempting to face hopelessness with rage, as he realizes that aggression is powerless against his own passions. At this point, he feels that deliverance can only come from a higher power, an attitude which becomes increasingly apparent as the song progresses until it culminates in a hardcore reinterpretation of the Christian hymn “There Is Power in the Blood.”
The remainder of the album continues to alternate between prayerful despair and anger. “Winter Solstice,” one of the standout tracks, constructs an atmosphere of resigned melancholy, while on the other highlight, “Flee, Thou Matadors” (the record’s most creative offering), Weiss voices his emotions through a headbanging dialogue between historical monarchs.
Unfortunately, the album suffers from a mild case of a front-loading syndrome. “Flee, Thou Matadors,” the sixth track, is by far the peak; though the next song, “Tortoises All the Way Down,” is a fascinating meditation on the boundless nature of guilt (complete with multiple biblical references), it lacks the rousing guitar that makes its predecessor a masterpiece. From here, the album’s quality begins to taper, and though it remains enjoyable until the end, it loses a bit of its initial intensity.
While the observation is hardly relevant considering the magnitude of emotions present on [Untitled], the album is mildly lacking in the area of originality. As a writer and vocalist, Weiss strongly resembles Bright Eyes’ Connor Oberst and Jesse Lacey of Brand New, while the entire mewithoutYou sensibility is deeply indebted to Sunny Day Real Estate. Lyrically, Weiss generally confines himself to familiar territory, but often adds an idiosyncratic touch. For example, he references songs by The Beatles and Belle and Sebastian in “2,495 Miles” and “New Wine, New Skin” respectively—surprising choices considering the disparity (both in sound and attitude) between mewithoutYou and the mellow folk-pop bands that he seems to admire.
Though the musical styles on the album are predictable, adhering to many tried-and-true formulas of its genre (“New Wine, New Skin,” employs one of the oldest tricks in the emo book with its single prolonged build-up), the band manages to execute the tropes well enough to vindicate the predictability. Thus, [Untitled] is certainly no game changer—the band most likely didn’t intend for it to be—but it is nonetheless effective, demonstrating the principle that quality does not necessarily correlate to originality.