Shhh…Listen to It: A Theopoetic Sound of mewithoutYou
In this ninth and final section of my paper, “Metaphoring Manifold: The Plurality of Theopoetics,” I discuss the sound of mewithoutYou and how its relates to the plurality of theopoetics.
As plural as the religious themes embedded in their lyrics are, mewithoutYou’s sound is perhaps more plural, thus reinforcing a sonic embodiment of a plurality of theopoetics. While there are many consistent sonic elements that thread through every mewithoutYou album, the band has executed an evolution in their sound that is, perhaps, unmatched.
The band began its career closely following behind the recent success of early 2000s post-hardcore bands At the Drive-In and Glassjaw. The band’s first EP, I Never Said I Was Brave, and album, [A→B] Life, inserted themselves as a post-hardcore band with which to be reckoned. Most of the moments on both the EP and album pummeled the listener with their hardcore punk influence. In other words, both the EP and album were loud and fast. Yet, what made post-hardcore unique to its father genre was its emphasis on giving more attention to slower and melodic pieces in its songs. While many early post-hardcore bands struggled to rectify the loud/fast with the slow/melodic, mewithoutYou was one band that found the happy medium in I Never Said I Was Brave and [A→B] Life. Critics and fans alike took notice of the angsty band from Philadelphia for their seamless way of integrating the loud/fast and slow/melodic sound that is so elusive, Weiss’s distinct talk/yell vocal delivery, and their floral and intense live performances.
mewithoutYou took a slight divergence in their sophomore release, Catch Us for the Foxes. Like their previous releases, there was plenty of loudness, yet the intensity of the last album was not replaced but simply subdued. The melodic, while not taking primacy, became a much more pronounced fixture in Catch Us for the Foxes. In addition, sounds on the album were not exhaustive to simply guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. Catch Us for the Foxes saw the tambourine, traces of an organ, and a vocal solo of a Hebraic chant.
It is in the band’s third album, Brother, Sister, that listeners were taken on the band’s most sonically off-trail release to that date. The album opens with “Messes of Men,” in which the sounds of rain pattering against a windowsill introduces the song shortly followed by an angsty acoustic guitar strum and church bells. Throughout the rest of the album were hints of the post-hardcore flair of the past mewithoutYou, but Brother, Sister incorporated too many new instruments like the harp, trombone, melodica, flugelhorn, accordion, and many others to remotely resemble the band’s earlier sound.
As drastic as the sound evolution was from Catch Us for the Foxes and Brother, Sister, the difference between Brother, Sister and the band’s next album, It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, was demonstrably disparate. What was once electric was now fully acoustic on the band’s fourth album. While there were some moments on the album that include an electric guitar, the bulk of the album is peppered with acoustic instruments. Most noticeable was Weiss’s vocal delivery shifting from a more talk/yell to more of a talk/sing. Needless to say, that the band’s new sound alienated many fans yet exemplified the band’s ethos of plurality–including wholesale experimentation of their sound.
After a short hiatus, mewithoutYou returned with Ten Stories, the sound of which can be best described as a hybrid between Brother, Sister and It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright. There was once again some of Weiss’s trademark yell/talk vocal delivery as well as brief stints of an aggressive guitar riff–although not to the extent that these elements played in Brother, Sister. However, Ten Stories marked a slight return to what fans once had known to be mewithoutYou’s sound.
The band’s sixth album, Pale Horses, was teased with an early release of their song, “Red Cow.” Initially in the song, listeners were once again introduced to the sound of mewithoutYou that they had come to expect from the prior two albums–that was until the chorus comes crashing in. The chorus crescendos to a sound fans had not heard from mewithoutYou since, potentially, Catch Us for the Foxes. This song, and many others on the album, rang with the intensity of old yet with new melodic flares never before heard from the band.
With the release of Pale Horses mewithoutYou’s sound trajectory became clear. Thus, when their newest album, [untitled], was announced, there was a tangible anticipation of whether the band would remain on this trajectory. They did. The album’s first three songs pulled no punches. In addition to mewithoutYou opening with three zealous songs, the band included a surprise in the middle of the album with “Wendy & Betsy.” It is this track that perhaps is the musically heaviest song they have ever written, even more so than their earliest songs, which flirted with hardcore punk. Nonetheless, the band ended the album with an ethereal and airy track, culminating an album that flirts with most extreme sonic elements mewithoutYou has to offer–a plurality to be sure.
From Poetry to Pitch: A Conclusion of a Theopoetic Plurality of mewithoutYou
Like the different streams of theopoetics meeting at the confluence because of the currents of an openness to the future, a priority of embodiment, serious theological reflection based on the natural world, a concern for the oppressed, and the contingency of all things, the plurality of mewithoutYou’s biography, lyrics, and sound are carried by the common current of relying on tradition to carry the band beyond into a field of infinite possibility. While the band may have been rooted in a short-lived fundamentalism, playful conversation with biblical text, and crushing guitar riffs, the plurality of mewithoutYou was carried by the current of transcending tradition to explore beyond into the depths of Hinduism, prose from Rumi, and even the accordion. Therefore, mewithoutYou is a prime exemplar of an embodied case of the plurality of theopoetics.
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