This wasn’t too encouraging. Mewithoutyou’s press sheet began with the phrase “Rock isn’t dangerous any more,” implying that the disc I was about to slip into the stereo was capable of redeeeming rock n’ roll from “faux-angst and lip gloss.” It’s a pretty gutsy assumption, and one that I’d normally smirk at, before tossing the CD onto the “better luck next time” pile. But Mewithoutyou had an ace up their sleeve. I caught their show at Cornerstone 2002, and, well, call me a believer.
There’s an intensity on this disc that owes nothing to punk or hardcore conventions, but nevertheless, tangibly captures everything that the spirit of punk and hardcore seeks to achieve. It’s in the spoken word/screaming vocals of Aaron Weiss, who spits out each word like it might just be his last. It’s in the confessional lyrics, which range from struggles with lust to boldly confronting God; when he screams “I try but I can’t remember the color of your eyes/Just the shape of your dress,” it’s almost embarassing to listen to. It’s in the song dynamics; the interlocking, careening guitars and sudden moodshifts become an assault, a shot of adrenaline.
This is a band unafraid to experiment. Granted, we’re not talking John Cage here, but still, the spirit’s there. Angst-fuelled 3-minute bursts suddenly fall away to reveal Middle-Eastern textures, skittering electronic beats, graceful guitar figures, and effects (tracks 5 and 10). And then, just as suddenly, tear it back up again (“Gentlemen”).
Amazingly, given the expressive nature of this album, it never becomes a parody of itself. Each of these songs feels convincingly, painfully convicted. One problem with so much so-called “punk rock” these days is that they try so hard to be rebellious and “punk,” but it feels like nothing more than a fashion contest. On [A→B] Life the rebellion is real. Not because they’re busy shoving themselves in people’s faces, but because of the music’s (sometimes) frightening honesty and power.
Some may find comparisons to At The Drive-In or …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, but I tend to think of Scaterd Few’s Sin Disease (almost eerily so on “We Know Who Our Enemies Are,” where I half-expect to hear Allan Aguirre’s tortured wail), another album that wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is against of musical backdrop of unexpected intensity. Back then, Sin Disease was considered too dangerous for “Christian Music.” And in some ways, so is [A→B] Life.
Goodbye to “faux-angst” indeed.. There’s nothing fake on this album at all.