MewithoutYou’s previous record Pale Horses ends in apocalypse and in a quiet inside joke between father and son. The apocalypse comes first: wailing, almost mourning guitars hit in waves while vocalist Aaron Weiss screams lines like “The sky, I’ve been told / Would roll up like a scroll / As the mountains and islands moved from their place.” The noise fades, though, in the denouement, when Weiss recounts in a calm voice the skeleton of a small joke. It’s a striking juxtaposition, this apocalypse and intimacy.
Fast forward to 2018, and mewithoutYou have released my favorite album of the year, [Untitled]. Out of the disintegration that ended Pale Horses, the band picks up the jagged pieces and whips them around. It’s probably their heaviest album since 2004, but the heaviness comes less from Weiss’ shouts or towering riffs and more from the near-impossible task of making sense out of things that don’t make sense, like anxiety or a mental collapse. In this way, [Untitled] is cathartic—not because it offers any clear-cut wisdom but because it tells personal stories honestly, which might actually be real wisdom.
Here’s an example. In the song “New Wine, New Skins,” a searing exploration of purpose and relationship, the lyrics don’t shy away from specificity. There are references to Boise, Idaho; the Gold Fork riverbed; and private conversations that need more context to be fully understood. But while the song’s lyrics do dance the line between mystery and transparency, they work, and the song works because they are wrestling with the same tension that finished Pale Horses, caught somewhere between a total unraveling and a personal, almost infinite sense of warm catharsis.
If you ever listen to [Untitled], I recommend doing so with the lyrics right in front of you. Not that the record won’t make an impact without the words—it will. The anguish so prevalent in certain expressions of mental fragility is apparent in the full band’s work. But reading Weiss’ convoluted and sometimes rambling lyrics offers an experience like I haven’t had otherwise in 2018. Something so cathartic that it hurts, and then releases you. You may even want to pull up Genius to explore each song’s inner workings.
If all this sounds like too much work just to listen to some music, you’re right. But that’s what makes [Untitled] stick, or at least sink deeply. And as I listened to it in the throes of change and anxiety this year, it fell on me almost like a weighted blanket.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.