Monday, June 08, 2009

mewithoutYou - it's all crazy! it's all false! it's all a dream! it's alright.


Tooth & Nail
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(Note: Also published on blogcritics)

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea; The Moon and Antarctica; hell, even Pet Sounds - please take note: mewithoutYou has officially joined your makers' ranks.

Six months in, it's all crazy! it's all false! it's all a dream! it's alright. has trumped every single competing bid for the best album of 2009, and I would bet the farm that the next six months' releases don't stand a chance to top it. It's not even close.

During the months leading up to the album's release, mewithoutYou promised that the sound would be quite different from the post-hardcore of earlier records; just how far removed that sound ended up being came as a shock to many. And I'm not going to lie - fans expecting Brother, Sister II are in for a real letdown. But those who enter with an open mind should find the progression to be a welcome change.

I've read several reviews that draw a comparison to Neutral Milk Hotel, and in certain ways, this is true. it's all crazy! it's all false! does incorporate a very eclectic instrumentation, bearing a general resemblance to the style of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Indeed, the horn arrangements on "Allah, Allah, Allah" seem like a reincarnation of "Communist Daughter", and "The Fox, the Crow & the Cookie"s romp would fit right in next to "Holland 1945". However, I don't think anybody's going to be confusing Aaron Weiss with Jeff Mangum any time soon, as the band makes the album very much their own.

In case it was not clear by now, it's all crazy! it's all false! it's all a dream! it's alright. is a folk record more than anything else, bursting at every seam with Sufi parables, Christian imagery, and deceptively simple choruses drawing straight from the campfire songs of yore. Many listeners will never get past this first, superficial sonic layer, which is a real shame. Because accompanying this quirky, folksy band is the sublime poetic talent of Aaron Weiss. Always one of the band's fortes, his lyrics here are several notches above those of his contemporaries, packing a depth and poignance not achieved since Dylan's heyday.

The most striking characteristic is the pervasive food and animal imagery present throughout the album's eleven songs. The titles themselves serve as an immediate clue: "Fig With a Bellyache", "King Beetle on a Coconut Estate", etc. What is more important, however, is the efficiency with which Weiss deploys these images and symbols, stuffing single lines with enough meaning to base a dissertation on. A perfect example of this is found in the opening stanza of "Fig With A Bellyache":

The camel in the desert took a ship across the lake,
While the fish in search of water found a fig with a bellyache.
Two lines contain an entire album's worth of connotations and literary devices, two lines whose conflicting meanings contribute to the song's theme of overcoming sexual temptation.

The camel here is used not only for its association with the desert (representing celibacy), but also the animal's capacity to subsist on stores of water for a long time (which stands for monogamy and fidelity). The camel is described as taking a ship across the lake, the stark juxtaposition with the dry desert suggesting divine assistance of some sort. Then, we are introduced with the fish, desperately seeking its lifeblood, who stumbles upon a malnourished fig. Figs have long represented modesty (Adam and Eve covered their privates with fig leaves in Genesis) and divinity (in the Qu'ran, Muhammed speaks of the fig tree's pitless fruit as coming from Paradise), and when one puts it all together, the message becomes quite clear. The camel might travel through long periods of abstinence, but can still find fulfillment through God. The fish, normally in an environment saturated by sex, is left stranded once the well runs dry, and his life is empty.

A careful inspection of "The Fox, the Crow & the Cookie" reveals a warning about the sin of pride, analysis of "King Beetle" reveals a striking tale of faith, and so on and so on with the other tracks.

At this point, I imagine that many have either reached or are rapidly approaching a threshold of alienation. But don't let me misguide you: this is not a Christian rock album. Let me repeat. This is not a Christian rock album. So if all the talk of faith and pride and David and Solomon seems a bit offputting, it's fine. Which is where this album's real beauty lies. Whether one understands the religious aspects - whether one even cares to acknowledge them - is completely irrelevant, having no bearing upon one's enjoyment.

There is so much more that I could write about this record - as I said before, there is enough upon which to base an entire dissertation - but I'll have to save that for another time and place. The bottom line is that mewithoutYou stands alone.

It might, admittedly, be crazy. But it's certainly too sincere to be false, too impactful to be a dream, and just too fucking good to be 'alright'. It is a modern classic.

Key Tracks:
The Fox, the Crow & the Cookie
The Angel of Death Came To David's Room
King Beetle on a Coconut Estate
Allah, Allah, Allah

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