When I first came to Denmark I had lost all hope for Danish music. It turns out however that I was looking in the wrong places, and the wrong places in the mid 2000s were anywhere but where this band was. A friend of mine that was into otherwise rubbish music stuck on “Frengers”, and I totally dropped my guard and decided to embrace the Danish music scene if they could come up with something as beautiful and original as Mew. Then she stuck on a Kashmir album and I spent the next half an hour trying to make an excuse to leave and ended up sleeping on the train platform in Ry. The next day I bought a copy of “And The Glass Handed Kites” and took a walk around my new city in the snow. It blew my mind. Honestly, in all my indie snobbery, I couldn’t think of anything else that sounded like that album – it was pure perfection.
I will just put forth my opinion of “+ -” now: it’s brilliant. It’s very rare that a band can “re-form” and pick up where they left off, ignoring anything that happened in the meantime. Personally, I don’t really count “No More Stories…” as being part of their golden era. It was a good album, but really lacked something that I couldn’t seem to put my finger on until last summer on the Saturday night at Northside ’15. That missing element was named Johan Wohlert; Johan is the bass player in Mew. It was their signature sound really – that interplay between the rhythm section, the polyrhythms and synergy that had returned when Wohlert came back to the fold after leaving the band sometime in the late 2000s.
Mew got their mojo back basically.
Next to a year later and we have this. When the international blogs debuted “Satellites”, the first track and lead single from “+ -“ I was elated and relieved to see that Mew had stuck to their halcyon formula. “Satellites” is a track that wouldn’t seem out of place on one of their 2000’s albums, in fact, it was almost as if they were covering themselves (if that makes any sense). However Mew always had their own particular sound that was modern, yet timeless.
“+ -“ has a natural ebb and flow to it in it’s track sequencing. Not that there is really a weak track on here, but they certainly put some of their best feet forward with the first quarter of the album or so. “Witness” (track 02) is surprising from the gate because it doesn’t feature Jonas Bjerre on lead vocals immediately, however just as soon as you figure that out he comes in and lifts the chorus with that voice, that huge festival chorus that will have everyone punching the air at Roskilde this summer. It’s also a surprising track in that it sounds like Bloc Party with Giorgio Moroder at the helm, retaining of course the best parts of each. Actually, there are a couple more songs that are heavily in the Bloc Party vein (“My Complications” specifically), however while the memory of that era of British festival bloke rock far behind us, we can relax knowing that Mew doesn’t rest it’s whole livelihood on pulling the same trick out of the bag – completely.
I say “completely” because I think I’ve effectively cracked the Mew code. This might get a bit nerdy for a bit, but I’ll put it in as plain English as I can: Mew has the ability to fuse two completely different songs into one. Part of their poly-rhythmic charm is that they can often lean heavily on playing triplets, or fragments of triplets upon 4/4 (or 2/4) beats. Basically – picture one person clapping fast with a consistent rhythm, and another person beside them clapping slow in a totally different meter. Put the two together and you have bits of the Mew formula, They also use a lot of modes that are tried and true pop formulas: 1 – 4 – 5 chord progressions, and sometimes (often in the same song) a modulation to a different relative key and then 1 to minor 3rd, then minor 6, then minor 1 or something to that effect. Essentially: they know what they are doing and have an incredibly complex sense of composing a weird pop song that makes sense, even if you don’t understand it.
The thing about Mew that I also figured out though – and this is on an emotional level, not a technical one, is that they never try and bum you out. Their music has always been positive and uplifting, hopeful and inspiring, rather than insipid and crass like so many other bands across the pond. It seems that bands of Mew’s ilk, like say – Radiohead or Muse, are truly there to bum you out and force the point that we are all doomed and living in some Orwellian nightmare in a field while we watch them play. Other bands like Bloc Party or Kaiser Chiefs (for example) are (or were) just too lad-ish in their approach. The; “hey-lets-get-fucked-up-and-die-young” mentality never really appealed to Mew. For fuck’s sake, their most beloved song is called “Comforting Sounds”. It actually should be the Danish national anthem (wouldn’t that be cool at sports events?).
The closest we ever come to a bummer is “Clinging To A Bad Dream” – possibly the mid-point of the record. It lulls you into a trance with next to a minute of ambient noise, then brilliantly into complex yet comforting African rhythm-play, before bursting into vintage Mew sounds (you’ll see what I mean), but the song’s text (from what I can detect) is there to shield you from your bad dream, not enhance it. Mew are basically the good guys trying to rescue you: “I know it’s difficult…” – but hang on – you’ll be alright. Brilliant. It’s almost like they understand the business of a serious comedown or a depression where you just need everything to be positive in the world until you can continue with life. They programmatically back this notion up with the chorus (or comforting section) being switched up to a non-threatening minor lift of 6-3-5. Maybe all this + – business means something eh?
The album closes with a couplet of very long and winding songs. At over 10.5 minutes, “Rows” further cuddles you with the opening line; “it’s alright now/anything you wish for, you can do.” Almost like an SMS convo between two lovers late at night across town – with an ultra modern indie soundtrack accompanying them. In this case the “Rows” are in the English sense – as in an argument. The song progresses into some cannon singing, enforcing the disorienting nature of the conversations crossing wires. The conversations range from hope to longing and love. I can’t think of a single modern band doing anything this amazing with music. Seriously. It’s like an entire film in 10 minutes. I just hope the younger generation of post millenials have to attention span to enjoy such a complex work of brilliance. “Rows” ends though with a surprisingly bumpy and minor conclusion – possibly indicating that all was not all right in the end after all.
“Cross The River On Your Own” is the official album’s closer – a kind of “Many Rivers To Cross” for the new age – another hopeful and positive message before you leave the record and re-enter into your own reality “You be good to me, and I’ll be good to you” – of course a modern adaptation of Confucius’s golden rule. “Cross The River…” is a song of help and love – possibly a message to a hurting friend in saying: whatever you decide, I’ll support you, however you have to make this journey on your own. Again, I don’t know of any bands in the world dealing with such complex emotional themes in such a successful and powerful way but still remaining secular. This is Mew’s signature – not their rhythmic play, not their brilliant chordal modes, nor their penchant for emotional algorithms – its their healing powers of positivity.
I can truly say that it was an absolute honor hearing this record, and after a few hours of digesting it, I feel as if I am all cried out, reduced to an emotional wreck, yet the tears are ones of joy and delight, rather than anger or sadness. I hope some of you feel the same way.
"I can truly say that it was an absolute honor hearing this record, and after a few hours of digesting it, I feel as if I am all cried out, reduced to an emotional wreck, yet the tears are ones of joy and delight, rather than anger or sadness. I hope some of you feel the same way." (5.5/6)