I had never heard of Mew until a couple weeks ago. That’s how little I know about this band, which is why some hardcore fans of theirs might stumble across this post and ask “what is this guy talking about?” But despite the lack of knowledge of their history and discography, this band and I have crossed paths. After hearing so much on the internet of their great album released last month, I found my hands grasped around a copy of their latest album “+-” with pure excitement. Consider this post a recommendation from a new fan.
Mew is a little band from the little country of Denmark. Consisting of Jonas Bjerre on vocals, Bo Madsen on guitar, Johan Wohlert on bass, and Silas Utke Graae Jorgensen on drums, Mew is the proactive example of all that is great with indie rock, showing hints of progressive rock influences. There might not be twenty minute compositions full of mellotron and improvisation guitar, but you can tell that these gentlemen probably blasted some essential prog albums in the past by the way they play on this album. Granted “+-“ leans more towards the indie side (and possibly even pop), there are many moments of progginess. From the time signature changes, the long drawn out progressions, and the overall experimental nature of these guys, Mew is definitely an interesting band. Now with that said, this album is very straightforward and restricted, not straying too far away from the craziness that comes with the genre. “+-“ is a solid album that I can guarantee readers of this blog will enjoy.
After a six year lapse between records, this album is a culmination of all the influences that have been building up in these guys for a long time. What resulted is a very indie sound, restrained in many ways. The songs are safe, meaning they don’t deliver those moments of time-changing rhythms and improvisational experimentation that give most people headaches. That does not mean that it isn’t good; in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed this album, and consider it one of my favorites I’ve found this year. Despite the simplicity, “+-“ is overtly catchy, generating very radio friendly love songs that can easily spark conversations between rock music lovers.
The extremely falsetto voice of Bjerre is charismatic throughout the album. His surreal voice is completely original, but has such a great range and delivery that it reminds me of many other vocalists. From artists like Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, Amedeo Pace of Blonde Redhead, and John Gourley of Portugal. The Man, Bjerre has an almost angelic voice that dances from cloud to cloud. His voice perfectly matches the airiness of this album, due in part to the echoed guitar work by Madsen and ambient keyboards throughout the album. Bjerre’s voice leaves the listener in a dreamlike trance with a voice fitting of a such a pop/prog/indie album, three genres containing notable falsetto vocalists throughout their histories. The song “Water Slides” is the best example of his range and intensity, a tune I could easily imagine Taylor Swift covering. His voice rises and drops like a bumpy road, and is very pleasant on the ears. Other notable vocals tracks are “Interview the Girls” and “Clinging to a Bad Dream,” being one of my favorite songs off the album.
Ambiguous is how I describe Mew’s lyrics. Bjerre has a special way of confusing me when I read the lyrics along with Mew’s songs. While unclear, Bjerre beautifully delivers the lyrics, which almost makes up for everything. Just like the lyrics to “Deloused in a Comatorium” by the Mars Volta, much of the lyrics in “+-“ are best felt than heard. The opening lyrics to the poppy “Making Friends” is the perfect example:
“No way / Say I’ll fit in because I live here now / It’s alright / On this street no one looks at the sky / Summer treats / No thank you / Inside, I looked at you / You were there making friends / I think so” (source)
On the other hand are beautifully written and discernible lyrics of songs like “Cross the River On Your Own,” a heartfelt breakup song. The song’s chorus is the perfect group of words describing someone’s failed attempt to move on from a relationship:
“You be good to me / And I, I’ll be good to you / Don’t let go of your light / It’s your best friend in the world / I hope you’ll learn what Heaven knows / Who cares if I go?” (source)
As for the rest of the band, “+-“ has great moments of progressive-pop compromised beats. Some songs have harps and synthesizers, while others use the typical rock band instruments. Some songs are much shorter and straightforward (“Making Friends” and “The Night Believer”), while others are longer compositions with great magnitude. Those are the songs I want you, the reader, to listen to. Being a progressive rock kind of guy, I was immediately drawn to the songs that reminded me of my own taste.
The two best songs are the last two: “Rows” and “Cross the River On Your Own.” Because the best are the last, I am not suggesting at all you skip through the album to the end. Instead, wait in anticipation, knowing that “+-“ only gets better as you listen on. “Rows” is by far the proggiest of their songs, with a runtime over 10 minutes long. A slow, subdued rhythm is shadowed by Bjerre’s vocals, but the roles completely flip by the song’s end. The experimentation and sound effects that envelope the second half are truly amazing, generating a jammy beat that I cannot help but dance to in my chair. Literally, I’m listening to it right now, and I’m bobbing around in my chair as I write. “Cross the River On Your Own” may not be nearly as proggy or as long as “Rows” (only clocking in at 7 ½ minutes), but the song is just as strong. In fact, I’d say it is the most moving track on the album. A simple fingerpicked rhythm in a vocally-dominated song that reminds me of high school prom, Madsen, Wohlert, and Jorgensen succeed in complementing Bjerre’s strengths. The closest thing to a solo appears in this song as well, which passionately closes out the album’s final moments with the beautiful pressing of piano keys. A perfect way to close off this album.
Props to Mew for creating a beautiful and acclaimed album in “+-“. I agree with the generally positive comments this album has received, and I’d highly recommend it to those of you into the softer albums on my blog. If you like the bands Bon Iver, Portugal. The Man, Blonde Redhead, Lydia, North Atlantic Oscillation, and others, you need to check this album out. You can support them by visiting their website, or by following them on Facebook and Twitter. Get your copy of “+-“ and give it the repeated listens it deserves. In the meantime, I’m going to find some of their older material so I come across as knowing what I’m talking about.