So I was thinking about writing a post dealing with the differences between writing music and poetry. For me it’s easier to write poetry than it is to write music, and I have no idea why that is. I think it’s something to do with the feeling that I find a lot of freedom on the page, but that everything amazing in music has already been written (I mean come on: Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Springsteen–it doesn’t get better, at least for me). I know there’s freedom in music too, but I’m still having a hard time working it out. Anyway, that’s not this post.

I wanted to talk about the band “mewithoutYou” in this post, and their ridiculously impressive lyrics and projects. They’ve been pegged as a Christian band, but I think that was the work of some pretty shortsighted music critics, because their lyrics use Christian, Muslim, and Jewish images and stories to explore themes about the self and relationships to the rest of life. They also take stories and images from the Bhagavad Gita, and historical events. Their album “Ten Stories” focuses on a traveling circus train that crashed in Montana in the late 1800s, and every time I listen to it, I find more and more to love about the lyrics.

Grist for the Malady Mill” is the second song on the album, and my favorite because of the rhythm of the lyrics, and the intense images they use. Give it a listen if you’re curious, it’s pretty intense (especially that intro), but if you listen for the lyrics, I hope you’ll see the brilliant images involved in a simple story about animals fleeing from the train crash. My favorite lyric comes in the chorus “rail spikes rip like the seam on a wineskin”– it’s just the perfect image, the perfect amount of alliteration, that nice long e in wineskin. Enjoy!

3 Replies to “mewithoutYou”

  1. Thanks for the link! I enjoyed the song. I love how it has a really great narrative quality to it. I guess that makes sense because of the topic.

    I love bands or artists that have a great lyrical quality to their work. It can be hard to achieve! That’s why I really love Florence + the Machine and Portgual. the Man (hey look at all that punctuation). Actually I highly recommend Portugal. the Man’s album In the Mountain In the Cloud because not only are the instrumentals rockin’ but so are the lyrics. They really compliment each other which seems integral in music. Sometimes the songs reference each other like poems would in a collection, too. (“Senseless” by Portugal. the Man)
    How can you not enjoy a song that begins “I watch the words drip from you/and pour from your mouth like a sieve”? It’s so evocative. Ah!

  2. Interesting meditation, Evan. I actually find that writing music is easier than writing poetry, possibly because I disagree that all the greatest music has been written. On the contrary, I think because of music’s evolving nature there is still an infinite amount of great music to be written in addition to the great music that already has. Of course, this is all subjective.

    Anyways, about the song you linked to. The lyrics certainly are well constructed, and the way the “line” tends to ends on the downbeat of the next phrase adds tension and drives the rhythm. I also enjoyed the baselines in the verses and choruses, as they texture the chord changes nicely and bring out the drum fills. The overlap between music and poetry has always fascinated me. Sometimes I’ll read a poem and want to add music to it because of its nearly perfect rhythm, or I’ll hear a song and want to extract the lyrics as just a poem.

    Still, the writing process differs quite a bit for me when it comes to music vs. poetry. The former is based more on feeling whereas the latter involves more of my logical brain (at least for now). I’m sure this works the opposite way for others!

  3. I encourage you to listen to some of their earlier stuff. As far back as their album A-B Life. Their earlier songs seem to be more painful and heart wrenching, all while using amazing metaphors and imagery. There is a song called in a market dimly lit that you should check out. In this song he says “you kept a distance out of fear you’d break. But what goods a single wind chime hanging quiet all alone? The music our collisions make is the sound that turns the road that leads us back home, into home.”

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