Music: an expression of humanity, escape, a soundtrack to life, deep passion….
The word on the street was mewithoutYou was invigorated. Fans who saw the band on their 10th Anniversary Catch For Us the Foxes tour said the band played with an intensity and passion they hadn’t seen in years. The new songs that made it into the band’s setlist were described as a return to the band’s post-hardcore roots. The hype machine was in full force heading into Pale Horses.
Between the redemptive nature of Ten Stories and my ever growing appreciation of It’s All Crazy, even if the band continued to make folk inspired indie rock, I knew that I’d like Pale Horses. But the idea that mewithoutYou might deliver a record on par with Bother Sister made Pale Horses all the more drool worthy.
Musically speaking, Pale Horses could be the bridge that gaps Brother Sister and Ten Stories. Yet all the same feeling a little disconnected from the rest of the band’s discography. The music isn’t joyous. Perhaps that’s more a reflection of the vocal and lyrical style of the recording. But in reading interviews with Aaron, he wasn’t around for the writing of the album. Long time fans of the band will understand what I mean by joyous. Even in those “darker” or heavier moments on the band’s first three records there was an energy that came through the songs that didn’t feel sad. Pale Horses is dense in the thick and murky definition of the word.
Pale Horses is also incredible. It’s possibly the most “punk” record mewithoutYou has ever written and I think in a sense it’s the band’s heaviest work. That feeling that makes you dance and sway with the band’s music is back. I feel very similar listening to this record that I did listening to Catch For Us the Foxes the first time. The music can very easily go from subdued and quiet to big and blasting in a moments notice. The band plays with dynamics in the same way they did on It’s All Crazy, where you’re straining to understand the vocals and then the song explodes and blows your sound system out.
Vocally, Aaron has brought his yell back! He doesn’t use it all of the time but the moments when he does sends chills up your spine because it’s driving a point home. It’s very similar to Brother Sister, but to a greater affect because his yelling/spoken word is used even less frequently than it was on Bother Sister. His spoken word punctuating the verse on Watermelon Ascot, letting his soft singing voice give chorus space to breathe. Mexican War Streets builds to a fever pitch as Aaron yells, getting grittier and grittier as the second verse plays, not back down once they get to the second chorus. His energy carries the song to a new height. His yell gives impact to the “chorus” sections on Red Cow and he saves his voice for the apocalyptic ending of Rainbow Signs.
Lyrically, Pales Horses can’t be understood. And you have to read interviews with Aaron to even begin to try and come up with an idea of what he might be saying. After two records of storytelling, Aaron decided not to have a theme. And by his own words, no one song is about any one topic or subject. A song might be about his honeymoon, doubt in God, and the apocalypse all at the same time. Which makes Pale Horses a confusing lyrical listen at times. Because the songs don’t ever seem to make sense. But those themes run throughout the record. Aaron love of the Old Testament and the stories of Moses and Abraham show up on the record constantly, as well as his love for Rumi and poetry. It’s not like Aaron is drawing on new inspirations, just reshaping those influences into something different. Death, love, the end of the world, does God exists, all of these topics and more find there way scattered throughout the songs on Pale Horses. But the make up of each individual song is so carefully crafted, that the record feels like a puzzle you’re trying to make sense of.
Yes, some people will be disappointed with the lyrical direction of the record. Rainbow Signs contains a certain four letter word that christians don’t like. And lyrics like “This is not the first time God has died” will rub people the wrong way. But you have to remember that doubt is a theme of the record and a real life issue. And Aaron has always drawn from his Jewish and Sufi history and has always had a sort of duel idea about God and spirituality.
I’m not sure I actually sold just how much I love Pale Horses. I’ve listened to the album on a loop since I got it (16x and counting). The record does feel like mewithoutYou returning to their post-punk roots without abandoning they indie stylings they’ve worked on crafting over the last couple of records. It’s a nice blending of the two. And yes, the record is dark and not as hope filled as previous efforts from the band, but that’s how life is, right? I’ve always been a huge mewithoutYou fan and Pale Horses is another excellent record! 5 out of 5 Stars!