mewithoutYou – Pale Horses (Review)

mewithoutYou - Pale Horses

Prior to finding myself enthralled by Pale Horses I’d never actually taken the time to listen to mewithoutYou, and the band’s latest release served as quite the introduction. Sure, I’d heard mentions, and read the odd news feature on absolutepunk here and there, but the Philadelphia five-piece had always remained a musical enigma I’d unconsciously ignored. There’s a chance I’d been getting them mixed up with Maybeshewill for years now, but I’d prefer to think that’s not the case. Regardless, I messed up; consider me an apologetic fool. Even if I had paid more attention, I’m not sure the whisperings from the social media stratosphere could have prepared me for the experience Pale Horses proved to be, and when I went into it I wasn’t expecting to find my favourite record of 2015, but did anyway. Listening to mewithoutYou’s sixth record made me forget about most of what I’ve listened to this year, an extraordinary release which is spellbinding on several levels.

Maybe if I’d been familiar with the band, maybe if I’d listened to 2009’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright when Rocksound gave it a 10/10 upon release then I wouldn’t have enjoyed Pale Horses as much as I did, but given the records outstanding quality that seems like an unfair assumption. It’s rare for a release to hold me from start to finish the way that this one did, but from the stirring guitars and cosmic kaleidoscope of Pale Horse to devastating closer Rainbow Signs there wasn’t anything I wanted to do except carrying on listening. It was like being wrapped up in a good book, and frontman Aaron Weiss is almost always an engrossing narrator as he pens lines on a number of personal and provocative themes, dwelling on faith and often doing so with dashes of classic literature (Joyce, Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare to name a few). It all makes for a vivid pallet, a record which is grand in scope and uncompromising in execution, and it’s been a while since I’ve been as hooked as I was when listening to it, perhaps not since Nouns’ Still, which I gushed over and named as my AOTY last year. In that instance it was moreso due to the records emotional nature, but with mewithoutYou it’s tougher to pin down. The bands sixth record is one which connected with me, and in it I found what I want in a record, even I’m still not entirely sure what that checklist might consist of. Often when I hit play I’m looking for a way to pass time, something to fill some silence, and taking anything more from it is a welcome bonus. Pale Horses isn’t a record I’ll ever play to kill fourty minutes – to do so would be putting it to poor use ultimately. This is a rich, rewarding record, and with each listen I only felt more absorbed, and to say that I think Pale Horses is special would prove an understatement. It’s a work of art, be it on the haunting, sombre Dorothy (‘I said: “if you can change your shape that easily can you take the form of my dead father? Because I think he would’ve liked to meet my wife” / And I know for a fact he would have liked my wife’) or the dense and dizzying Lilac Queen. It’s easy to lose yourself in it all, there’s something magic about Pale Horses, and it shines in every second. There is a light that never goes out, so to say.

Pale Horses numerous strengths are highlighted by the production of scene staple Will Yip, who’s production adds to a record which sounds incredible and is immaculately written. It’s gorgeously warm and emotionally worn, crisp guitar tones intersecting cushioned drums and Weiss’ own unique vocal styling’s. Part of the records appeal comes from the way it sounds, as well as the way it seems to constantly straddle the lines between several genres, and always does so with unerring grace and style, aided by Yip. Part folk, part post-hardcore, part indie-rock, always ambitious, Pale Horses is accessible and often emphatic whichever way it opts to shift. There’s a haunting, ethereal quality to Weiss’ vocals, which come across as robotic whilst maintaining an endearing humanity, and his delivery is complemented by instrumentals which rise and fall in time, and often do so without having to push too far to do so. There’s a restrained quality to Pale Horses which sounds anything but, and there’s a majesty which lends itself well to tracks like lead single Red Cow without trying too hard to achieve something monumental, take the twilight twang guitars of D-Minor or the shaky aggression of Mexican War Streets as further examples. Seventh selection Blue Hen builds delicately and then blossoms, rippling outwards as instrumentals overlap and Weiss speaks through the haze, balancing between calming and claustrophobic whilst accompanying one of the records best weaving arrangements. It’s a track which is beautifully put together, as are most, and each sounds accomplished; to an extent mewithoutYou make it seem very easy, and it only makes the record all the more convincing and affecting. From a musical standpoint Pale Horses is as good as it gets, and from the offset it never really puts a foot wrong, each song a highlight aside from Birnam Wood perhaps, which stands out as the records weakest track but remains very good anyway, its more forgettable nature highlighted by the songs on either side, Magic Lantern Days and closer Rainbow Signs, which were my favourite from the LP. The former unfolds in a starlit studio, inspiring goosebumps, like rediscovering In The Aeroplane Over The Sea underwater as Weiss laments ‘But neither time nor I could hold your 1985 Chernobyl heart’. It’s a stunning piece of music, but the record’s finale manages to top it, a six minute, beautifully layered epic which floats along on calm seas and peaks amidst a thunderstorm, the red dwarf namechecked on fuzzy Watermelon Ascot imploding at the end, electrifying. At the songs most chaotic Weiss yells ‘the mountains and islands moved from their place / And the sun would turn black as a dead raven’s back / But there’d be nowhere to hide from the Judge’s face’ reflecting the instrumental intensity, and his words resonate as the track, and record, fades to a grand close.

One thing I had heard preceding my first listen of Pale Horses was that the record is heavily spiritual, thematically speaking, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly apprehensive going into it as a result. I’m not religious in the slightest, and never have been, but instead of feeling alienated by the records lyrical content I found Weiss’ primarily spoken word prose admirably composed and, although his vocals are at times tough to make out I wanted to read along, if only to gain a further appreciation for a record which had already done more than enough to win me over. It’s similar in a sense to how I can enjoy a Norma Jean record without focusing too much on what’s being said – and my own opinions of it. Pale Horses is good enough that it doesn’t really matter to me where the lyrical inspiration comes from, and even if it did there’d be plenty to enjoy outside of lyrics which may not appeal to an atheist listener.

If mewithoutYou have released a record superior to Pale Horses over the last fifteen years then I look forward to hearing it, if only to see if the feat is achievable. Whatever expectations I had of the release were easily surpassed, and if, come December, the band’s latest record isn’t my favourite of the year then I’d be surprised, because Pale Horses at this moment feels unbeatable, and it’s an exceptional, and essential release from a band I’m eager to learn more about. Since starting this blog I’ve reviewed around one-hundred and fifty releases, and as far as I know this will only be the second 10/10 I’ve given in that time. Pale Horses, quite simply, is a masterpiece, and I implore you to give it a chance. You can stream / purchase it digitally here whilst I delve into the bands entire discography and hope for something equally remarkable.

Rating: 10/10
Listen to: Mexican War Streets, Magic Lantern Days, Rainbow Signs

You’ll know where to find us our best years behind us
Barefooted pilgrims in shrines of our youth:
‘Our joy was electric, our circles concentric’
Converging on statues of permanence and
Death, where is thy sting?

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8 thoughts on “mewithoutYou – Pale Horses (Review)

  1. Waves of goosebumps all through the album. It just flows so well together. AOTY so far, and probably even my favourite mwY album of all time. And that’s saying a lot.

  2. Really cool review, man. I’ve been a huge mewithoutYou fan since Catch… came out, but this album seriously wrecked me. I never thought they’d be able to outdo what they did with “Brother, Sister” but Pale Horses might go down in history as even better than that record. Such a beautiful piece of art.

    1. Appreciate the feedback and thanks for the comment, man. Listened to all their records now, and think ‘Pale Horses’ to be the best ahead of ‘Brother, Sister’ and ‘[A->B] Life’. Yet to hear a bad word about this album.

  3. It’s funny you mention Norma Jean. Aaron Weiss’s appearance at the end of Memphis Shall Be Laid to Waste was what introduced me to mewithoutyou in the first place.

    1. Yeah, I didn’t realise that was him until recently. I heard him feature on Say Anything’s ‘Push’ last year but never thought to check his band out. Better late than never I guess…

  4. What a marvellous review. Thank you. I might have listened to this record over a hundred times now on different formats and Birnam Wood could be my favourite song.

  5. […] 1) mewithoutYou – Pale Horses I’ve read plenty of end of year lists over the last few weeks, perusing them whenever they crop up on Twitter, or  skimming through magazines in newsagents, and I’m not sure I’ve seen mewithoutYou’s incredible Pale Horses mentioned on any of them. I’ve been trying to work out why that is, listening to it in the hope of finding it undeserving of an accolade, and I fail to see why this record seems to have been forgotten so quickly by so many of the big guns. Maybe it’s because the record is a difficult one to grasp conceptually speaking, maybe it’s because it doesn’t appeal to the widespread music media. Then again, maybe it’s none of those reasons and something is just simply off with the music universe and its governing bodies. Whatever the reason, it’s not one which I’m guilty of. No other release from 2015 inspires the kind of response in me that Pale Horses does; I’m hooked every time I press play, immediately immersed in what has been the best experience alternative music has provided this year. mewithoutYou’s sixth LP is a cinematic and absorbing work, a spellbinding, atmospheric and incredibly dense record which is as engrossing as it is enigmatic. It’s an easy listen which doesn’t always sound like an easy listen, and the extent to which it toes that line depends on how invested you become in it. Over the last few months I’ve become heavily invested in the grandiose nature of Pale Horses, and despite having listened to it numerous times (probably pushing sixty) since it’s June release I’m still somewhat baffled by the lyrical complexity it possesses. Frontman Aaron Weiss is not your everyday lyricist, and his lines twist and spin in a way which seems to resist an easy interpretation, heavy in spiritual imagery and dancing from one scene to the next while you’re still trying to piece together the lines before. Just because you know the words, which I do by now, doesn’t mean that you know the words – not really. This is one of the many reasons that I love Pale Horses as much as I do; I can’t remember ever being challenged this much by a release this cryptic before. It’s so layered, so intricate, so wonderfully weird, that it’s a record which never proves boring, serving up something new to latch onto with every playthrough. As a listener who often turns immediately to the lyrical side of a record, Pale Horses caught me off guard, and then reeled me back in song by song, asking for consideration if not necessarily understanding. It helps that, musically speaking Pale Horses is also excellent, and the instrumental arrangements negate the need to make sense of the lyrical aspects. Magic Lantern Days ribbons warmly, a slow, gentle embrace, whilst Mexican War Streets is explosive after a foreboding build, Weiss matching the aggression on show.  Monolithic closer Rainbow Signs signals an impending apocalypse, and is breathtaking at its tumultuous peak, a crashing cacophony which makes the idea of an apocalypse tame in comparison. This grand finish presents one of several moods traced with an earnest ear on Pale Horses, and it contrasts the more subtle Blue Hen or Red Cow, which are both brilliant, the latter my favourite track on the album, magic. I was critical of tenth track Birnam Wood in my initial review, but over the months it’s gone from the weakest link to one of the stronger selections, the sonic shifts carried off flawlessly as Weiss asks ‘And can we not call it a nervous breakdown, my nervous system breaking down?’ It’s eclectic and electrifying, as is all of Pale Horses, and it adds to a sonically lush palette, ripe with melodic musings, mellow guitars meeting reserved drums for a laid-back, lucid effect. It’s moments as thick and thoughtful as these which helped to set mewithoutYou above their contemporaries this year, and there’s plenty of them on display. Pale Horses is a rare release, one which seems to get everything right, and it’s hard to ever see myself ever tiring of it – I don’t know how I could, considering how much it has to offer. There’s a reason Pale Horses is the only release I’ve rated highly enough to assign a 10/10 to this year, and the reason is that mewithoutYou’s sixth LP is a work of supreme majesty, rightly taking the crown for 2015. (Bandcamp / My Review) […]

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