Album: Brother, Sister
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Release Date: 26 September 2006
Review by: Eric Pettersson
When mewithoutYou left the local Philadelphia scene and joined the Tooth & Nail roster in 2002 to release [A–>B] Life, there were incredibly mixed reviews. Those quite comfortable with the status quo of punk and indie rock thought they were too weird and found Aaron Weiss’s unique shouting approach to vocals to be a huge turn-off. Others instantly attached themselves to mewithoutYou because they could relate to Aaron’s deeply poetic, honest, and emotional lyrics, and because their music offered something new to an otherwise repetitive scene. 2004 saw the release of Catch for Us the Foxes, which lost their previous punk edginess and took a more indie rock approach to their poetics and intensity. The new vocal styling additions of talking and even some singing brought in many new fans, and the lyrics were better than ever, taking a much more spiritual route this time around. 2006 brought word of a new album, and love them or hate them (you have to choose one, there is no middle ground with this band), everyone waited in quiet anticipation to see what new changes this one would bring.
Brother, Sister starts off quiet, with the sound of rainwater and the phrase “I do not exist” in “Messes of Men,” a song using sailing as a metaphor for life and making mistakes, beginning slowly sung and building throughout into a more passionate singing. It ends with the line “Lord, I could never show you anything as beautiful as you,” before going into a more guitar based part for the next minute, of course transitioning perfectly into the following song. After this first track alone, fans of mewithoutYou are feeling an indescribable excitement for the rest of this album, and even skeptics must feel the potential here. “The Dryness and the Rain” brings back Aaron’s signature talking/ shouting vocal style for the verses, but for the chorus the entire band sings deeply together, a new technique showcased all over this disc. The chorus and Aaron’s closing lines layered over the group are in Arabic, which sounds really good here, but I unfortunately cannot find a decent free online translation (I believe I had the same problem when a bit of French was used on “Bullet to Binary”). The pace and anxiety are taken back almost to the land of their first album with “Wolf Am I! (and Shadow),” a song with lyrics like “Wolf am I! (no, shadow I think is better, as I’m not so much something as the absence of something.” Next is “Yellow Spider” the first cut of a three part song about God’s provision, and a spider on a leaf of the same color that Aaron saw which “confirms my deepest held belief.” The next song, “A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains,” is a nice verse/ chorus combination of Aaron’s new gentle singing voice with his defining shouts. It compares our actions to those of various animals, tying in with passion the trial of Jesus and his resistance to fight back or even respond. I was told by friends who were lucky enough to attend the in-store release show that Aaron said “Nice and Blue (pt. 2)” is not his favorite song, but the label told him that it is the one the most people will like, so it’s their single. Stylistically, it closely resembles “January 1979,” and during the second time through the chorus includes the amazing line “I’m still waiting to meet a girl like my Mom, only closer to my age.” We are next met with many Biblical references, a quote from Saint Francis of Assisi, and Aaron singing in a slightly deeper voice than usual on the track “The Sun and the Moon.” Towards the end, we are encouraged to “find a friend and stay close and with a melting heart. Tell them whatever you’re most ashamed of- our parents have made so many mistakes, but may we forgive them and forgive ourselves.” Our journey with the spider and leaf is continued with “Orange Spider,” and at the end of the verse Aaron finds himself about to laugh at the clever absurdity of his lyrics and does not begin singing again until the backing vocals are halfway though the chorus. This song and the next contain some additional instrumentation from members of Anathallo. The chorus to “C-Minor” contains my favorite lyrics on the whole album. “Open wide my door, my Lord, to whatever makes me love you more.” mewithoutYou is never content to stay where they are spiritually. As one reads the lyrics to Brother, Sister, it is obvious they want to grow to be more like Christ, and they want everyone else to grow with them. Another favorite lyric of mine is contained in this song: “I’m still (technically) a virgin after 27 years, which never bothered me before, what’s maybe 50 more?” “In a Market Dimly Lit” starts off melodic and slow, but the intensity is brought up and down with certain parts, showing mewithoutYou’s artistic intelligence when it comes to crafting a song, and the lyrics end beautifully with “the truth belongs to G-d, the mistakes were mine.” Psalters join on “O, Porcupine” for some additional percussion and vocals at the end of the song (this voice may be remembered from the end of “Four Word Letter (pt. 2)”). This is one of mewithoutYou’s best songs ever written, and ends with the voice from Psalters singing passionately in the back while Aaron shouts over him, ending with “but sister in our darkness a light shines, and all I ever want to say for the rest of my life is how that light is G-d, and though I’ve been mistaken on this point or that, that light is G-d.” It is the most amazing sounding thing I’ve ever heard, and paired with those lyrics, I can’t help get excited and slightly emotional each time I hear it. This track, as well as “The Dryness and the Rain,” both contain extra vocals from Jeremy Enigk, casting a nod of recognition to one of the fathers of third-wave, mid-west emo, Sunny Day Real Estate. “Brownish Spider” ends the journey and life of our spider friend, also stating that we too die, and when we do we will have no more beliefs (because we will then know the truth). “In a Sweater Poorly Knit” brings back the feel of the first song and at the end of each of it’s three verses claims “the trap I set for you seems to have caught my leg instead.” It ends beautifully with a harp alone playing for a minute or so, after Aaron and a girl sing many times over “I do not exist,” with only Aaron adding the last few times “only YOU exist.”
When all is said and done, though I was originally unsure of this point or that, I cannot recommend mewithoutYou’s latest effort enough. To previous fans, this is only a natural progression of their sound, and Weiss’s lyrics are at their best. This is one of the most openly Christian bands in the market today, yet they present it in a very heartfelt, personal way that even those highly opposed to our faith have claimed mewithoutYou to be one of their favorite bands. Even if you do not agree, you have to admit that this band has a passion for what they play, and a very real passion for what they believe. Aaron speaks mostly in parables, some of which are a little hard to decipher the meaning, but I believe the same thing happened when Jesus first spoke to the crowds. So I encourage you to buy Brother, Sister. Dig into its lyrics. Listen to it on repeat. If you hated them before, I can’t promise you’ll enjoy this one, but at least give it an open chance. If you’re still turned off by the fact that they do what they want musically, just look up the lyrics online and read through them. However, this is not just music, and this is not just poetry or fine story-telling. The two are very closely intertwined, and it is done extremely well.