It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, the 2009 release from heady indie-punks mewithoutYou, was a veritable master class on folk-pop songcraft, with vocalist Aaron Weiss wrapping a newfound croon around hookily shambolic largely-acoustic beds, but the break from the band’s post-hardcore past wasn’t especially well received by fans. Ten Stories declares a détente of sorts; it opens with Weiss in classic form, barking out “February, 1878”’s scene-setting intro with the intensity of a street preacher crying doomsday before easing back into more melodic vocals at the two minute mark. Weiss continues to draw from both techniques throughout Ten Stories; “Fox’s Dream Of The Log Flume”’s aggressive ramble could be a lost recording from 2004’s Catch for Us the Foxes, but dark parable “Elephant in the Dock” feels like a continuation of It’s All Crazy’s experiments with vocal melody. The two approaches fit together surprisingly neatly, with most tracks melding seamlessly together; the few moments that jar do so with clear authorial intent.
The band, for their part, seem to be on the same page; most of Ten Stories’ instrumental tracks draw from one of those two wells, though there’s an intriguing intermixing of waters at times, a synthesis that results in some of the band’s most musically exciting moments to date, like the jolting transition from lilting major key pop to dirty alt grind midway through “Nine Stories.” Meanwhile, mewithoutYou have a couple new tricks up their sleeves: Ten Stories’ most quietly tuneful track, “Aubergine,” swoons warmly, dreamily, over starbursts of pedal steel; the spry indie pop of “Cardiff Giant” could pass for Modest Mouse at their ebullient best.
If there’s been one constant across all of mewithoutYou’s albums, it’s Weiss’ idiosyncratic approach to his lyrics, and Ten Stories’ subject matter—theologically and philosophically resonant fables exploring morality and the quest for truth, dense with metaphor and symbolism but couched in deceptively simple language, starring anthropomorphized animals and plants—should be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the band’s past work. Ten Stories is mewithoutYou’s first true concept album—it purports to tell the story of a circus train disaster by exploring the lives of the animals involved therein—but all of the band’s past albums have evinced tight thematic ties, so what might feel like an awkward pose (or a serious overreach) for other outfits seems mostly par for the course for mewithoutYou.