Pale Horses

Written by: LF on 15/01/2016 19:18:19

At the top of the pile of gems that came out last year and didn't get a timely review here, we find the experimental post-hardcore/indie rock Philadelphia band mewithoutYou's latest album. In many ways, it is not a surprising mewithoutYou release, meaning that it's a solid one with a high level of complexity in the music and depth in the lyrics that allows you to explore it time and again. While it can certainly also work "just" as an initial enjoyable and easy listen, it's also the kind of record that lures and beckons its listener to dive in and unearth every detail it has to offer, and the ability to write so many songs in one album that work exactly like that is among the consistent qualities that make mewithoutYou the kind of band you simply have to respect.

In earlier albums, the band have varied their style in different ways between post-hardcore, indie rock and folk, and on "Pale Horses" they have balanced all these into a mix that is as coherent as ever. Many of the songs here change character and mood smoothly, for instance the highlight "Lilac Queen" that builds up slowly and kicks in after all of two minutes or the dynamic "Watermelon Ascot" that changes gear several times until it finishes with a more folksy beat through a simple, well-placed break. The rises and falls in intensity are often led forward by vocalist Aaron Weiss' changing emphasis on his comprehensive lyrics that seem to burst forth with their own force, with most songs not having anything that resembles a chorus, except maybe for a single, seldom repeated line. Suddenly he raises his voice, pushes it into frantic screaming or lets it lower again to a sweet and calming melody, not least expertly done through "Red Cow" that provides a rambling feverish highlight that bleeds into next track "Dorothy" that serves as a calm and beautiful ending.

In several places, the songs bleed into each other like that and it is one of the reasons the album flows so extremely well from one setting to the next. It binds the songs together in different batches that give us the feeling of listening to an album divided into movements of varying length rather than individual 3-minute songs. The album also abounds with catchy repeated melodies that, despite the lack of recognisable chorus-verse structures, makes intensely word-heavy songs like "Mexican War Streets" and "Blue Hen" cling to your brain nevertheless. Even though some of the songs have names that allude to animals, the amount of allegories and fables that have often been at the center of the stories in the band's songs are nowhere to be found and instead, the band's equally usual religious themes and allusions dominate on this album.

The one-two punch of "Magic Lantern Days" and "Birnam Wood" towards the end stands out the most from the rest of the album with more of a full and harmonic sound than can otherwise be found on this melancholic album, partly communicated through the inclusion of brass instruments and the purely clean singing from Weiss. The lyrics are still solemn and thoughtful in their own way, though, and the album also pulls itself up and ends on a not-so-cheerful note via the eerie "Rainbow Signs" that bursts out an apocalyptic vision in between pieces of simple melody that tie up the album by referring back to the introductory "Pale Horse".

This is an album that presents pretty much every facet that mewithoutYou has as a band with great versatility and it does so extremely well for anyone who can appreciate Weiss' rambling and excessive vocal style. While some of his sentences are of the kind that nail you to the wall instantly with their crystal clear wit or profound phrasing, the bigger picture is often cryptic and raises a curiosity that is never resolved. This is part of the album's charm but it also places the band's music in the category of things that I don't revisit as often as I would like because I feel forced to only listen when my full undivided attention can be sourced to try and solve the riddle that is "Pale Horses".

Download: Red Cow, Lilac Queen, Mexican War Streets, Watermelon Ascot
For The Fans Of: Manchester Orchestra, La Dispute, Thrice, As Cities Burn, Bright Eyes, As Tall As Lions

Release date 16.06.2015
Run For Cover Records

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