Danish band Mew has been around since 1994. There are grown-up people now that were born after that. Think about that one for a minute, eh? You could say that, looking at album art and titles, the lads have grown more bonkers as time has gone by. Their latest album, the how-the-heck-do-you-pronounce-it? +-, comes a whopping six years after the how-the-heck-are-we-going-to-shorten-this No More Stories ... That one was released by Sony, but this time around they have taken matters into their own hands, self-releasing it, and with Johan Wohlert back in the fold. The essence of the band remains the same, though, having a truly “own” sound comprised of the typical vocals of Jonas Bjerre and the almost orchestral pop-rock of their instruments.
What Mew do so well is play with contrasts and progression. The contrast of bombast versus intimacy, of fast versus slow, of deep sounds versus high pitched ones. But also the contrast in terms of genre sounds and the kind of instruments used, as well as the contrast of complex structures and simple, easy-to-relate to emotions or phrases (“I know, I know, I know, it’s difficult, it’s difficult, different”). All these contrasts are more than expertly put together on their latest. It is a marvel to hear so many sounds coming at you, with so many changes per track, and it all still feeling so smooth and so easy on the ear. The emperor Joseph, in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, says about one of Mozart’s pieces that it has too many notes. Surprisingly, here Mew manage to side step that with ease, funneling all these different sounds and all these change-ups into a cohesive whole.
The album’s opener, ‘Satellites’, for example, starts out with one instrument, followed by Jonas’s high-pitched vocals. Slowly, it builds up, until around the minute mark some bombastic drums come in. At 1:20, these bombastic drums transmorph into a drumbeat, picking up the pace significantly. Before the two minute mark, though, you get the chorus, where the beat is stripped away, Jonas is singing that he wants to be a satellite (for that’s all we see, it’s only satellites, satellites, satellites), after which you get the drumbeat back, a fast moving guitar, and multiple vocal tracks. This is bookended by a chorus again. At this point, mind you, we’re just at the halfway mark, with the second half of the song being decidedly different-yet-fittingly-so than the first half. These complex structures and progressions are evident, with some bombast and theater as well, not only on the track’s opener, but throughout all the songs.
The behemoth of +- is the near-eleven minute ‘Rows’, which starts real tranquil with just a bit of guitar, followed by ballad-like vocal singing that “It’s all right now, anything you can wish for, you can do”. Not that it all is okay yet, as he sings that “We’re going to make it work”, as if after a break-up. In the mean time, multiple instruments have already been added, with at 1:30 the big drums coming in to give it a bit of a punch. Just as easily, though, these drums are taken out of the equation again, going for a sad-sounding piano and guitar combo. Fast forward to the nine minute mark, and you suddenly find yourself in a fast paced flurry of sounds driven by a drumbeat. The best thing about this is, that the journey towards that is so natural, so nicely composed, that it isn’t like what-the-heck?, but that it is a logical progression within the song.
This album, is just another lovely, cohesive output by Mew. All of the songs are surprisingly easy on the ear, despite having so many elements and changes and so few simplistic structures. In terms of composition, it is truly interesting to hear how the songs progress, and how they play the contrasts of soft-loud, fast-slow, deep-high using not just the rock band guitar-bass-drum-vocals set-up, but also backing vocals, horn-like sounds, and even some theatrical bombast on occasion. Six years on, their sound hasn’t been simplified, but it somehow is pretty accessible (despite moving away from a major label). As they have grown older, their sound has not aged, but instead it has grown up. Mew deliver not only yet another good record, but one that one can consider as accomplished to boot.