- February 1878
- Grist for the Malady Mill
- East Enders Wives
- Cardiff Giant
- Elephant in the Dock
- Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume
- Nine Stories
- Fiji Mermaid
- Bear’s Vision of St. Agnes
- All Circles
When it comes to the world of mewithoutYou opinions, there is a small group of listeners that still clings to A -> B: Life as being mewithoutYou’s crowning achievement, of which I am a part. In my eyes, the logic is simple; A -> B: Life is mewithoutYou’s only album that is essentially without a flaw. Catch For Us The Foxes, despite being both consistent and with its high points, failed to coagulate under any sort of theme or sense of overall unity. Brother, Sister, while cohesive and also with its fair share of heart-stopping moments, was ultimately inconsistent and lulled slightly in the center. And It’s All Crazy!…, while uniform in its blunt freakishness, never managed to pack the same punches that earlier standout songs such as “Wolf Am I (And Shadow)” or “January 1979” had. But if these becoming-legendary indie rockers are to be believed, Ten Stories should be the crowning achievement of 8 years of near-perfection, the point at which everything clicks. Is it? Again, nearly.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Ten Stories is just how unsurprising it is. It’s almost exactly on par with their highly consistent discography as a whole (again, It’s All Crazy!… included), and stylistically it is as they have been saying for months: a hybrid of their last three albums. The chaotic fury of Catch For Us The Foxes makes its return on tracks like “February 1878,” “Fiji Mermaid,” and “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume” (which features Hayley Williams of Paramore, as closer “All Circles” does as well). The gritty indie-ism of Brother, Sister pops up on moments like “Grist For Malady Mill,” which could be seen as the album’s “The Dryness and the Rain.” Even the wacky folk vibes of It’s All Crazy!… work their way onto Ten Stories, but this time with the energy that mewithoutYou is known for, such as on “Cardiff Giant,” which is likely the most purely exuberant song mewithoutYou has ever penned and among their best songs ever. Don’t call Ten Stories a return to form; mewithoutYou never got out of form. A more accurate assessment would be that it’s a return to sound, which it is above all else.
But beyond the parts that comprise it, Ten Stories has another highly noteworthy characteristic, which is the fact that it’s among the most vivaciously creative albums the Christian market has ever seen released. And though it’s almost an even more difficult assertion to make that it’s their most creative album to date, Ten Stories makes a strong case for such a distinction. At times this might even be a detractor; mewithoutYou is so incredibly set on being outside of the box that Ten Stories struggles to ever settle down and take on a personality of its own, and instead collapses into an average of mewithoutYou’s personality as a whole. It’s nitpicking at its finest, as determining “averages” of a band’s personality is borderline preposterous, but it would have been nice to see Ten Stories come together as an independent entity just a little bit more.
When it’s all said and done, though, Ten Stories is still missing something that prevents it from being “perfect,” if such a thing can be achieved. It’s hard to believe, but to some extent Ten Stories is missing Aaron Weiss. One of the things that hasn’t changed from It’s All Crazy!… is that Weiss is still hiding behind his animals. Ten Stories is a concept album, telling the story of a circus train crash in 19th century Montana. Yes, you read that right. Close scrutiny reveals that these ramblings do in fact make sense, but anything less than a 100% concentrated listen provides little insight. While the shift to one narrative as opposed to eleven may still assuage the concerns of some critics of mewithoutYou’s last album, Ten Stories is not quite the clear personal study that Weiss subjected himself to on Brother, Sister. At times, though, it is just that, such as on “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume,” where Weiss remarks “you know, I don’t know if I know, though some with certainty insist, no certainty exists! / well I’m certain enough of this; in the past fourteen years there’s only one girl I’ve kissed!” or on “Cardiff Giant,” which features the euphoric chorus “I often wonder if I’ve already died.” It’s clear that as a composition Ten Stories is brilliantly written, but it’s so impossibly difficult to follow that it loses some of its potential effect. Still, it’s hard to complain when there are lines as brilliant as “you’ll miss having someone to blame for your sadness now, now won’t you / maybe there will be a bakery hiring, we’ll knead a little bit of dough to get by.”
Overall: It’s honestly difficult to think back to the last time a Christian artist accomplished what mewithoutYou has accomplished with Ten Stories. It’s probably an early front-runner for album of the year, but beyond that, Ten Stories is a landmark album in the decade and beyond. Not that this is new territory for Aaron Weiss and company, but you just can’t expect them to go there again. Has mewithoutYou gone there again? Yes, absolutely, mewithoutYou has gone there again.
RIYL: Danielson, La Dispute, early Modest Mouse, later As Cities Burn