It's risky business to take your well-loved band in a new direction musically. Just ask Family Force 5 and Showbread and they'll tell you it's true. Unfortunately, it's also a sure fire way to lose some fans. But that's just what Tooth & Nail favorites mewithoutYou did. Their previous project, the amazing Brother, Sister, was everything and more that fans waited for. The half-singing-half-yelling that everyone fell in love with was in full force (with the exception of a few songs throughout), and the music was just about as experimental as you can get with a few guitars and a drum set. But with the highly anticipated It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All A Dream! It's Alright, most of what set them apart musically and vocally has been abandoned, and replaced with a different type of structure.
Lots of early speculations stated that It's All Crazy!... is like a bunch of Christian campfire songs, and that's not too entirely untrue. Though "Bullet To Binary, pt. II" still retains a lot of the old nature of mewithoutYou vocals, the rest are fairly tame. If you're familiar with Brother, Sister, just think about the "Spider" songs, and you can kind of catch a feel for how these new songs will sound. Though they aren't as mild as the "Spider" songs, It's All Crazy!... would be more comparable to those than any of the band's older material. Songs like "A Stick, A Carrot and String" and "Timothy Hay" have all the bandmates playing along, but are still quieter songs, and contain no yelling, screaming or speaking from Aaron Weiss - just singing. "The Angel of Death Came To David's Room" is structured like an old hymn, with the repetition of one line in each verse (and also has some mandolin work similar to something you might hear on a Flatfoot 56 album), and "Fig With A Bellyache" has music that is a little strange - even by mewithoutYou standards - but intriguing as well, and nothing short of sheer goodness (though, admittedly, I'm sure some will be annoyed by the "ba da da"'s present in the beginning half of the song).
Now, the changing of the music isn't the only risk that mewithoutYou has taken with this venture. The topics and lyrics are also a little risky, to be honest. Any fan of the band knows that Weiss is big into nature, and has used animals and plants and various types of foods in previous songs to allude to humanity, but on It's All Crazy!... his usage of them has been multiplied (not in every song, but some of them). "A Stick, A Carrot and String" is a song about baby Jesus lying in the manger, and about all the animals that were in there taking care of Him or speaking to Him about why He was born. The incredibly catchy "The Fox, The Crow and the Cookie" mentions tons of different treats, even using some to describe the crow ("I got a walnut brownie brain, and molasses in my veins...these carob-colored almond eyes"). "Bullet To Binary, pt. II" alludes to human drama and the concept of reaping what you sow using a vegetable garden (and ties everything together in the second half of the song), and "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate" is a story all about a beetle colony. The risk? It can sometimes come off as if Weiss was telling children's stories. That's almost what it seemed like at first. But with repeat listens, and actually looking into the lyrics, it's an easy-to-get-through obstacle.
Another risk is some of the wording chosen in a few of the songs. Wording that will most likely either offend or raise the eyebrows of some Christian listeners. For example, using the words "marijuana" and "cocaine" in "Cattail Down" and "The Fox, The Crow and the Cookie," respectively. That one's not really a huge deal, but then in "Timothy Hay," the words seem a little confusing when he says "Broke the news to Mom: we found a better Mom we call God (which she took quite well)." At first, someone might look at it and say "Is Aaron Weiss saying that our God is a woman?" But really, what he's getting at is that, while God is certainly our Father, He has the loving and caring qualities that a human mother has for her children. It's a personality trait that God and a mother have in common that Weiss is singing about. "Fig With A Bellyache" has some strange (and almost questionable) lyrics, that you may not fully understand unless you do some research (I wouldn't have had any idea had I not randomly stumbled across an explanation I found for it). Some of it is symbolism from a book called Divine Luminous Wisdom That Dispels the Darkness by M R Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. Confusing as it may be, "The camel in the desert took a ship across the lake" is about overcoming sexual temptation, and "the fish in search of water" is in reference to man searching for God, when God is all around him already. But sexual temptation is the main theme of the song. Much like Brother, Sister's "Messes of Men," this song is sung from the perspective of a character dealing with his temptation. There are a couple lines that may make you ask "Did he just say that?" such as "We pretend to care and like we understand, our eyes go soft but know it now, what we're thinking about is your mammary glands and how to sail your birth canal," (speaking of the typical male who is just interested in sex), then "The dog below our waists aroused, as arms embrace the pretty, it came much more as a surprise, it happening while I hugged the guys." Here, it starts to make sense why this album will not be carried in Christian music stores, however, it's not really all that bad, as he's just describing the temptations that a lot of men go through in their daily lives. Just in more of a blunt way than what we usually expect from Christian artists.
What may be the biggest deal with this album is how Weiss says "Allah" instead of God sometimes. At the end of "Every Thought A Thought of You," he speaks in Arabic for a few lines, one of which being "Haqq: la illaha il Allah." And then, of course, there's the album closer, simply titled "Allah, Allah, Allah," a great song - also another song that is 100% non-traditional mewithoutYou, musically (remember that whole "Christian campfire song" thing?). Its structure is very basic acoustic guitar work as the backbone, but it's pulled off very well, making for a great final track (and, if the rumors that this is mewithoutYou's final album are true, it also makes for a beautiful song to finish their legacy, telling listeners once and for all just who they stand for). This song may cause many Christians to become skeptics of this band (if they weren't already), but it's important to look at Weiss' background. He was raised with a lot of Jewish and Muslim influence. He's chosen to live for Christ, but he has a great deal of knowledge concerning Jewish and Muslim culture, which includes the languages. "Allah" is simply the Arabic word for "God," and not strictly the name of the Muslim god. Granted, I wouldn't have had the guts to write a song using the name Allah like this, but there's nothing wrong with Weiss' intentions for it.
In reality, there are only really two big differences between It's All Crazy!... and older mewithoutYou. The first is the music, and the second is the style of the vocals. The music still has some classic mwY sounds, and Weiss' famous vocals still have their place here and there, so fans won't be completely lost. But for the most part, it's an altogether different outing for the group. The lyrics themselves, however, are Aaron Weiss through and through. Deep, contemplative, mysterious and passionate. Regardless of how different it may sound, it's still the guys' hearts displayed here. And the music isn't bad, it's just different. But, a lot of fans will hate this album due to its lack of what made them fall in love with mwY in the first place. And certainly there is room for disappointment. For instance, there are a couple (for lack of a better term) mini-guitar solos that seem slightly amateur, when you would really expect more out of a couple guitarists who write great guitar lines for their songs. Some may also be disappointed with the fact that nearly every song has some sort of lyrical repetition in it. "The Angel of Death Came To David's Room" and "Allah, Allah, Allah" are pretty much built on that repetition, but other good examples of this are in "Timothy Hay," "Every Thought A Thought of You" and "Goodbye, I!" But the worst of them may be the end of "Cattail Down," which repeats the words "You're everyone else" at a pretty up-tempo pace for about the last minute of the song. For the most part, the repetition works in the song's favor, but after about twenty seconds of "You're everyone else," it gets a little aggravating. I got it, I'm everyone else, now please just finish the song already!
mewithoutYou doesn't seem to stay in one place musically for too long. The jump from [A-->B] Life to Catch For Us The Foxes was kinda big, going from raw to a little more cleaned up. From Foxes to Brother, Sister wasn't as big of a leap, given that they're pretty similar in style, but as the band progresses, they continue to evolve. It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All A Dream! It's Alright may not be the new mewithoutYou album you were waiting and waiting for, but it's a new mewithoutYou album. And it's still some of the best in indie rock. I can't say it quite matches up with Brother, Sister, but this is definitely one of the top albums of 2009.- Review date: 5/16/09, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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