I think that I’ve seen enough episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog to brace myself each time I need to check my phone while this album plays. I also think that maybe, just maybe, if a vocalist strings their lyrics right, they can seem less like a singer and more of a cultist fanatic, ranting and raving about the apocalypse during and after a fallout. Philadelphia’s mewithoutYou manages to create an album in Pale Horses that’s dark and visceral, throwing image upon image at you.
In “Pale Horse”, guitars play their simplest notes as you look at the bleak grey and smog of a dark Manhattanhenge in the background. So too, do the drums as they feel chained to the drummer. Everything is so foreboding.
The distortion of the guitar kicks a barricaded door down in “Watermelon Ascot”. Strong vocals release, speaking about concentration camps and introducing a lyrical style that the group has been cultivating. Words feel driven by a conveyor belt. Drums transition smoothly into “D-minor” as we reach into foggy territory. Anger feels more restrained, but it’s still there, along with hard-hitting drums and lyrics about God. Although the exploration of religious themes is not new to the band, the album art speaks volumes about dark days with its sketches of serpents and sasquatches. I might need to read the table Bible for once.
“Mexican War Streets” breaks down into a vicious diatribe, feeling like Brand New. The mental breakdown from this imagined apocalypse is interesting. The distortion in ‘’Red Cows” is just as ravenous. The guitar notes become more ethereal at its bridge, bringing a much-needed respite from code orange chaos. “Dorothy” brings even more of a break from darkness, feeling sadder with even more lyrics about religion, referencing Krishna and one’s ability to shapeshift. It wouldn’t seem right to have a calm without a storm.
Drums start readying until they’re ceased by the fanatic over the speaker, singing in a mellower fashion until he prances into lyrics about the Spanish Inquisition (“Blue Hen”). The weakest track on the album alongside “Birnam Wood” feels like voices, guitars, and drums are vainly reaching for something louder. “Lilac Queen” is one hell of a song, however, with a line about comparing one’s self to the ISIS flag design. Starting with slow guitar phrases and Pontius Pilate and the Euphrates joining in on the continuing list of obscure references, the song dashes into another phase with drum cymbals clacking. I couldn’t care less about the solo and the bended notes–bring back our strange man.
Wait. Did we reach heaven? “Magic Lantern Days” starts off into a synthy ether until imagery of chemical plants fill our minds. Whoops. Still, the line about a Chernobyl amusement park is charming. The drums are more anthemic and the guitar fills are a lot more hopeful. “Rainbow Signs” is a deceptive title for the final song. Referencing lyrics in “Pale Horse”, extended light notes in the first minute brings some form of hope. For some reason we’re looking at the stars through the smog, eating popcorn, laughing, not dying. But silence almost overtakes us for a second before a keyboard plays. Something’s not right, you tell yourself, as the distortion comes back to reveal darkness. Our fanatic is screaming atop a hill. Maybe a firing squad is around him. This is Godspeed You! Black Emperor darkness. Beware.
A contender for album of the year in my book, mewithoutYou crafts something akin to Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, utilizing a post-hardcore sound in an apocalyptic way. I welcome our future overlords.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.