A serious difference occurs between Christian bands and bands composed of Christians. Enough lyrical themes inhabit mewithoutYou's Brother, Sister to suggest the act falls into the former of these groups, as does their history and association with the Tooth & Nail label (who themselves have denied strictly Christian ties while signing a number of arguably Christian-oriented acts). In punk rock, this creates a most disconcerting clashing of conflicts -- we saw it this past summer among the divisive Warped Tour lineup, notably between NOFX's Fat Mike and Tooth & Nail's own, Underoath.
But what happens when the band themselves manage to avoid preachy overtones and simultaneously create expansive, entrancing and mesmerizing soundscapes? What happens when the way they discuss their faith merely becomes a vivid series of metaphors and occasional Bible storytelling, personal observances and confessions rather than directive fundamentalism?
What happens is a great album is written. What happens is Brother, Sister.
Quite arguably, mewithoutYou have produced their best effort to date in Brother, Sister. In toning down much of their past aggressive post-hardcore nature in exchange for atmospheric, brooding and yet dynamic indie rock, it's hard to resist labeling the band as having "matured," but that would be underwriting the ambition undertaken on the album.
"Messes of Men" proves frontman Aaron Weiss's voice is surprisingly fragile when expressed in more hushed tones rather than anxious speeches and paranoid shouting -- and this revelation occurs in more than one spot. In "Messes of Men" itself, soft acoustic licks eventually integrate a plethora of more orchestral instruments and at some point brings to mind a more lush, dramatic Decemberists. The introducing style of the song begins a recurring theme, providing a backbone for tracks titled "Yellow Spider," "Orange Spider" and "Brownish Spider" in which Weiss repeats the same basic melody and lyrical base with a few obvious replacements.
The band's vague Dischord influence of yore does come into play quite a few times, but when combined with their softer, wider post-rock referencing moments, makes for quite a dynamic pairing ("A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains") that hardly seems to draw "too" much from either. "Nice and Blue (Pt. 2)" is a more or less rewritten and re-recorded version of its earlier appearance on 2002's [A --> B] Life, and helps play into a revolving number of melodies and lyrics that pop up throughout Brother, Sister. Surely, Weiss lets slip a now rare Fugazi similarity when he shouts seemingly offhand in the chorus of "In a Market Dimly Lit."
`90s emo pioneer and fellow Christian Jeremy Enigk offers guest spots on two songs here, and his performances are, in a word, incredible. In the chorus of "The Dryness and the Rain," his eerie voice brings to mind his inflection on the post-reunion Sunny Day albums. The same could be said for his absolutely haunting yet enchanting line of "in darkness your light shiiines / on / me" in "O, Porcupine" -- until he lets out a breathtaking, eyes-clenched emotional scream, channeling the most wrenching moments off 1994's Diary. The songs are great on their own, but Enigk brings a whole new element to each that make them all the more compelling.
"C-Minor" is another of Brother, Sister's assured standouts. The flawless transition to the chorus, where Weiss is eventually found pleading to his Lord "do whatever makes me love you more" *should* make even the most secular of listeners join in his pleas. Weiss even seems to either poke fun at exaggerated ideology or question his own practices with the offbeat remark of "I'm still technically a virgin after 27 years, which never bothered me before / what's maybe 50 more?"
The fruits of mewithoutYou's labor come to, well, fruition in the epic, beautiful closer of "In a Sweater Poorly Knit." Upon layered, ringing guitars comes tense but paced acoustic strumming to usher in the track. Pretty harp strings -- if I'm not mistaken -- and a chorus of yearning "ahhh"s help provide a lightness to Weiss' nervous singing, but the powerful line "the trap I set for you seems to have caught my leg instead" really helps the song stand out. A chorus eventually leaves Weiss singing "I do not exist / only You exist" alone and the harp plucking away to close the song. A rather breathtaking ending in all.
Even those who don't overanalyze and choose to derive all sort of sordid meanings from the Bible recognize that it contains some rather well-written, creative and impressive types of stories. Is it so much to ask to regard Brother, Sister in much the same way? Develop your own set of morals, but recognize that when another's relies on a completely different base, the mere practice of expressing it can be a whole 'nother fascinating, intriguing set of notes -- as, without a doubt, Brother, Sister is.
The Dryness and the Rain
A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
Nice and Blue (Pt. 2)