Like all interesting pious writers Aaron Weiss is largely concerned with impious thoughts and actions. His work with Philadelphia natives mewithoutYou is by turns confessional, narratively dense, and delightfully left field in character. If you fancy a three-minute treatment of the mind/body distinction through the lens of a sentient elephant on trial for crashing a train, then Weiss is the man for you.
mewithoutYou somewhat unfairly cop the ‘Christian band’ tag. There’s certainly plenty of biblical imagery flying around but equally so Jewish influence, secular inspiration (Kurt Vonnegut, John Donne, North American folk history), and an entire album based on the fables of Sufi mystic Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. Weiss can rarely be accused of brevity- the singer of a more famous band once remarked of mewithoutYou’s opening set, “That guy puts more lyrics in one song than I’ve written in my entire career”.
Weiss’ early work is self-serious and indicative of the sort of post-hardcore sincerity that might induce a cringe for those long out of high school. The saving grace as far as Weiss is concerned is that he actually did and does mean it all. For all his stylistic shifts there are constants: a personal God and the continual struggle to constrain a stubbornly base and immoral nature. Lyrics from mewithoutYou’s first two albums could be read as Cohen-esque meditations on faith if not for Weiss’ much more frenzied delivery.
From 2006’s Brother, Sister Weiss began to frame his work more innovatively and his now patented animal metaphors began to appear. Lyrics from the following It’s All Crazy! It’s Alright! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright (2009) are largely delivered through the mouths of human-like foxes, beetles, and goats. Weiss’ characters serve the storytelling purposes of anthropomorphic fable beats: elephants are wise; foxes are crafty; peacocks are proud. The characters are shortcuts to scene setting that leave more room for narrative and exuberant wordplay.
The death of his dad during the writing of Pale Horses (2015) seems to have marked a shift toward the doubtful and pessimistic in Weiss’ tone. Rather than seeking a whisper of the divine from a shape-shifting monk he disarmingly asks, “Could you take the form of my dead Father? I think he would have liked to have met my wife”. Weiss is always earnest and a true original. These are ten of the best lyrical snippets from his work with mewithoutYou.
- ‘Messes of Men’ (mewithoutYou: Brother, Sister– 2006)
Lyrics: Such distance from our friends/Like a scratch across the lens/Made everything look wrong from anywhere we stood
- ‘The Fox, The Crow and The Cookie’ (mewithoutYou: It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright– 2009)
Lyrics: (The Crow to the Fox) Your subtle acclamation’s true/It’s best to give praise where praise is due/Every rook and jay in the Corvidae’s been ravin’ about me too
- ‘Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume’ (mewithoutYou: Ten Stories– 2012)
Lyrics: Well I don’t know if I know/But some with certainty insist, ‘No certainty exists’/Well I’m certain enough of this/In the past fourteen years there’s only one girl I’ve kissed
- ‘A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains’ (mewithoutYou: Brother, Sister– 2006)
Lyrics: We’re like peacocks wandering the walkways of the zoo/Who have twice the autonomy the giraffes and tigers do/Saying, ‘No one can stop me, no one clips my claws’
- ‘Paper Hanger’ (mewithoutYou: Catch for Us the Foxes– 2004)
Lyrics: Our essence was fire and cold and movement, movement/If they ask you for the sign of the Father in you tell them it’s movement, movement, movement and repose
- ‘Mexican War Streets’ (mewithoutYou: Ten Stories– 2015)
Lyrics: Some other surrogate self/To live in the sediment of so many somebody elses’ innumerable lives/And you were right/’It’s not a person who dies, but worlds die inside us’
- ‘Fig With A Bellyache’ (mewithoutYou: It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright– 2009)
Lyrics: That dog below our waist aroused/As arms embraced the pretty gals/It came much more as a surprise/It happening while I hugged the guys
- ‘In a Market Dimly Lit’ (mewithoutYou: Brother, Sister– 2006)
Lyrics: I had a rusty spade/But I’m not the fighting sort/If I was Sampson I’d have found that harlot’s blade/And cut my own hair short
- ‘Torches Together’ (mewithoutYou: Catch for Us the Foxes– 2004)
Lyrics: So why this safe distance?/This curious look?/ Why tear out single pages when you can throw away the book?/Why pluck one string when you can strum the guitar?
- ‘O, Porcupine’ (mewithoutYou: Brother, Sister– 2006)
Lyrics: And you say Judas is a brother of mine?/ Oh, but sister in our darkness a light shines/And all I ever want to say for the rest of my life is how that light is God