Number 3. mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister

Number Three. mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister (September 26, 2006)

“I used to wonder where You are
These days I can’t find where You’re not

MewithoutYou has a diverse catalog and a diverse fanbase, and it seems like each album has a special place in the hearts of different people – some say the later mewithoutYou is nothing compared to the intensity of A to B: Life, and others feel similarly about Catch For Us The Foxes. For me, it’s the album that introduced me to them, with their impeccably melodic yet driving grooves and Aaron Weiss’s fluid lyricism: Brother, Sister.

“More like the absence of something so SHADOW AM I!
The whole material world seems to me like a newspaper headline!
it explicitly demands your attention
and may even contain some truth
…but what’s really going on here?
One day the water’s gonna wash it away
One day! the water’s gonna wash it away!
….Nothing clever to say.”

They’re one of those bands that sounds very unlike any other band I’ve ever heard. Weiss narrates the tracks in a half-shouting, half-talking sing-songy voice that to some is immediately charming, and to others is an acquired taste, at best (or an annoying and unendurable squeal, at worst). But the lyrics are so rich and vivid, full of beautiful imagery and clever metaphors, that I very quickly began to think of it as poetry set to music, and it suddenly became one of the most appealing things I’d ever heard.

our house wrapped in disrepair,
a small mouse peeked out from a hole beneath the stairs
nearby to where my dad sat in his favorite chair,
thinkin’ ’bout the government and muttering a prayer
so I scattered some oats in hopes she’d stay
then sat still to stop from scaring her away,
but she hurried on her little way
and scurried around my mind
ever since,
every day…
still there’s a whisper in my ear,
the voice of loneliness and fear, and I say:
Devil, disappear!
I’m still technically a virgin after twenty-seven years,
which never bothered me before,
what’s maybe fifty more?
open wide my door, my door, my Lord
(open wide my door)
to whatever makes me love You more”

This was enhanced by the fact that the music does much more than simply serve as background filler for great poetry. It’s a sort of structured chaos that invites an array of organic instruments – accordions, harps, horns, and a lot of percussion – to the party, where the party is a collection of compelling rhythms that sound so good they could be looped for a very long time before I would start to get tired of them.

“what new mystery is this?
what blessed backwardness??
the Immeasurable One is held and does not resist!
struck by wicked words and foolish fists of senseless men
the Almighty One does not defend!”
what new mystery is this?!

The passion fueled by both the music and the delivery of the vocals is so much stronger and more engaging than most of the music I come across today, and it reflects the truths – or a searching for them – that I strongly hold to. I’ve listened to the album dozens of times, but I still find “new” phrases that jump out at me.

“I do not exist
only YOU exist”

To quote a random reviewer I found on the Internet, who I think may have expressed my feelings better and more concisely than I could:

“mewithoutYou hosts communal dinners before shows, invites fans to play onstage with them, and tours on a bus fueled by donated vegetable oil. It feels like they’re trying to build a big family, rather than a big fanbase.

That familiarity is something that’s immediately striking on Brother, Sister. The big picture is rather unique – Aaron’s spoken-word poetry laid on a punk rock groove with folk and chamber-pop overtones – but each constituent part is actually rather familiar, almost nostalgic. The songs here are densely layered and melodically compelling, at times bordering on the grandiose, but if you break it down you’ll find that the contributors to that sound are so impossibly small and humble – the groan of a garage-sale accordion, the warblings of an amateur choir – that it’s a wonder they can make anything so orchestrally pretty.

mewithoutYou is the sound of community. They’re not rock stars. They’re not even performers. They’re the sound of simple, imperfect people, joining together to make a broken, loving, joyful ruckus.”

My Most Important Albums Of The Decade
Week of 10/18 – Honorable Mentions (#14-#11)
Week of 10/25 – #10. Lord of the Rings
Week of 11/1 – #9. How To Save A Life
Week of 11/8 – #8. The Beautiful Letdown
Week of 11/15 – #7. Awakened
Week of 11/22 – #6. MMHMM
Week of 11/29 – #5. The Alchemy Index
Week of 12/6 – #4. A Collision
Week of 12/13 – #3. Brother, Sister
Week of 12/20 – #2. Define The Great Line
Week of 12/27 – #1. All The Houses Look The Same