I suppose you could try to discuss mewithoutYou’s music in your typical fashion, by looking at their background, the other bands they’ve been in, their influences, etc. However, I’ve found that a more accurate starting place isn’t even with their music per se, but rather with the little ASCAP title under which they publish their songs — “Jesus Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner.” It’s a cry of desperation uttered by that lowest of lowlifes — the tax collector.
In Rome-occupied Israel, tax collectors were seen as traitors, Jews who had thrown their lot in with the Romans and were helping them oppress their fellow Jews. In Jesus’ parable, a tax collector is compared with a Pharisee, a leading religious scholar of the day. The Pharisee proclaims his righteousness and good deeds while the tax collector, unable to even raise his eyes to heaven, implores “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” It’s one of Jesus’ most famous stories, partly because it cuts to the heart of the matter — those who claim themselves to be righteous, who trust in their own works, will be lost whereas those who throw themselves on the mercy of the Lord will be saved.
That sense of desperation, of realizing the depths of one’s brokenness and need for God’s mercy, is at the core of mewithoutYou’s music. It manifests itself in their sound, full angular post-punk guitars, frenetic drumming, and massive climaxes. It can be heard in Aaron Weiss’ voice, which contains a barely-checked fury that almost always ends up exploding with a seizure-like intensity. And it can be seen in the band’s lyrics, which are rife with Psalm-like imagery, emotional breakdowns, and shocking confessions.
As with their debut, 2002’s [A→B] Life, the lyrics of Catch for Us the Foxes are chronicles of desperate struggles with the flesh and mind, some of them quite blunt in their honesty. On “The Soviet,” Weiss makes his struggle almost too clear for comfort: “Besides, how else could I confess?/When I looked down like if to pray/Well, I was looking down her dress.” At the same time, he makes his need for God equally clear: “Good God, please! Catch for us the foxes in the vineyard.” These little foxes, the troublesome sins that run rampant in our lives, run rampant through the disc. And after every encounter, the band lays their souls bare, casting themselves on mercy and grace, trusting that “He uses the weak things to overcome the strong!.”
There are moments when the lyrics do get away from the band, when the prose becomes a little too flowery and effusive for its own good. However, there are also moments when the lyric are quite clever (“Jonah, where’s that boat going — your ship set with eager sail?/There’s a swirling storm soon blowing/And no use, fishermen, in rowing from a consecrated whale” — “My Exit, Unfair”) — and quite poignant (“I had a well but all the water left so I’ll ask your forgiveness with every breath/If there was no way into God, I would never have laid in this grave of a body” — “Carousels”).
What prevents even the most flowery of prose from becoming old and stale is the absolute ferocity and ingenuity that the band brings to their music. In some ways, I’m tempted to compare mewithoutYou on this album to a less eclectic, more punk-fuelled Arcade Fire. One can hear strains of classic U2; several of the album’s atmospheric passages are reminiscent of The Joshua Tree, and churning rhythms recall The Cure’s darker moments a la Pornography. As with their previous album, there are plenty of psychedelic flourishes, including a Hebrew chant on “Four Word Letter (Pt. Two)” courtesy of The Psalters’ Scotty Kruger.
It’s a seething racket and it’s a wonder that it doesn’t collapse in on itself at times. But the result is an album where nearly every single song grabs you by the throat with something — a melodic hook, a massive chorus, or simply Weiss’ impassioned vocals intoning another tale of desperation and brokenness.