Written by: TL on 21/05/2015 20:51:57

When you want to make a name for yourself as a band, putting together a unique sound wins you half the battle. With that in mind, the success of Denmark's own Mew is no surprise, as you could listen to new records all year and yet rarely if ever come upon bands that sound much like them. The band's dreamy mixture of new wave and prog elements have made them music scene elites at home, and while Danish listeners tend to generally be fiercely proud of Mew, their appreciation abroad has also grown steadily. It has been quiet around the band, however, since the release of 2009's enigmatic "No More Stories..." Yet last year the group reemerged, once more reunited with prodigal bassist Johan Wohlert, who had for a stretch been occupied making frosty stadium rock with his wife in The Storm. A new record was on its way they proclaimed, live from the stage at NorthSide Festival, and that new record is here now in form of "+-".

As hinted, the key to Mew's success is partially their extremely careful soundscaping. Iconic, blue-eyed singer Jonas Bjerre almost exclusively sings in childlike, naive falsetto, while synths and inventive effects swirl around Bo Madsen's inventive guitar parts. The soundscape is expansive and romantic, as is the way of new wave, yet both Silas Graae's rhythmic patterns and the melodic progressions often twist unpredictably as you would only expect of a prog band. That being said, "+-" is arguably Mew's most mellow and accessible album to date. Not that you notice this straight away, as the album starts with by far its strongest song, "Satellites". This single methodically encapsulates everything fans like about the quartet. An innocent intro, some gushing prog and a twist down into a darker verse, and with that the stage is set for the rousing, catchy chorus. Bjerre strings together lines using words like "satellite, movie night" and "picking up the phone" in a way that feels quirky and makes you curious as to whether he's being cryptic or if there's deeper meaning to be derived by listening closer.

So far so well, and things proceed decently with the characteristic riff and galloping tempo of "Witness", which is one of the few songs where you notice Bjerre singing in a normal voice. It's a pretty straightforward song by Mew's standards though this would be fine if the chorus had been a bit stronger. "Night Believer" takes a laid-back mood and finds some better hooks on the far side of some female guest vocals, though the way Bjerre sings "Are you..." sounds almost a bit too similar to how he did it on the band's previous hit "The Zookeeper's Boy". The following three songs all have details worth noting. "Making Friends" open with blooming synth and funky rhythm that sound like something from "Bon Iver", while "Clinging To A Bad Dream" flirts with some of the darkness and danger of the band's earlier days, and "My Complications" tricks you with a poppy opening riff, only to kick into a sprint and unravel with a guitar bit that feels like a part Bloc Party could have written.

At this point however, it has gradually been made apparent to the listener, that the atmosphere and the occasional peculiar parts are what you should be here for, more than for the sense of cohesion and movement that characterised "Satellites". Moving through "Water Slides" and "Interview The Girls", it becomes clear that where Mew once had elements of darkness and mystery looming in between the chiming and serene ones, the closest you come to that impression is in small dozes during "Witness", "Clinging To A Bad Dream" and "My Complications", and these only vaguely echo career highlights like "Snow Brigade" and "156". Instead it feels a bit like complacency is in fact the most threatening force in Mew's world these days, as heard in the meandering "Rows", which takes far too long before breaking off into an interesting direction at eight minutes and beyond.

As the album closes then, while "Cross The River On Your Own" also grows in safe and gradual increments, a couple of things are clear. If you're hearing Mew for the first time, you'll still notice how enchanting and unique their musical world is, and existing fans are also prone to feel right at home, drifting away in the dream-like soundscapes the band works with. Critical listeners will likely hear that "+-" is Mew's softest and least uncompromising album though, making it a good deal less fascinating and rewarding than "No More Stories", and a good deal less endowed with clear highlights than "And The Glass Handed Kites" and "Frengers". Initially then, Mew might still sound like a fairy-tale band, but there are signs here that they are fallible earthlings in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Download: Satellites, My Complications, Night Believer, Witness
For The Fans Of: Bombay Bicycle Club, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Blaue Blume, Dry The River

Release date 21.04.2015
Play It Again Sam / Evil Office / A:larm Music / Universal Music / Petroleum Records

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