Review of + - Album by Mew

Six years might not sound that long, but a lot can change over such a period of time. Take Mew, for example. In 2009, their fifth long player and first as a three piece 'No More Stories Are Told Today, I'm Sorry They Washed Away // No More Stories, The World Is Grey, I'm Tired, Let's Wash Away' (excuse the long title) came out to a wave of positive reviews. Having discarded the avant-garde, post-rock stylings of its predecessors for a more dance-infused, pop-based sound, it should have heralded their long-awaited and richly deserved breakthrough into the mainstream. Sadly, it didn't. Which, for a band whose ambitions and aspirations stretched far beyond any conceived limitations from the outset, must have been difficult to take.

Mew + - Album

Fast forward to May 2013 and it was back to the drawing board. No doubt revitalised by the self-imposed hiatus initiated after the promotional schedule for 'No More Stories.' had elapsed, the band decided the best course of action would be to go back to the future; literally. So, the first name on their list of would-be conspirators emerged in the shape of Michael Beinhorn, whose last contribution to the band's recordings saw him produce the predecessor to 'No More Stories.', entitled 'And The Glass Handed Kites' in 2005. With recording sessions under way, it wouldn't be long before Beinhorn persuaded them to give former bass player Johan Wohlert a call. Having left the band in 2006 after the release of 'And The Glass Handed Kites' to concentrate on becoming a father to his newly born son, Wohlert's return to the fold didn't so much change the dynamic as provide the missing link. Finally, the band then invited Bloc Party's Russell Lissack to co-write and eventually play guitar on the new record, having toured together several years earlier. While Lissack's contribution is limited to one song on the record, his input is notable on the metallic surge of 'My Complications', the album's centrepiece and one of its many highlights.  

So, returning to the cryptic title '+-', it could be argued that it refers to turning a negative situation into a positive one; overcoming a dark period with a degree of optimism. Brimming with a newfound confidence and a multitude of ideas to match, '+-' was born and over the ensuing eighteen months, exquisitely crafted into arguably Mew's finest hour since 2003's 'Frengers'.

Opening with a twinkling piano solo reminiscent of a nineties rave track or even Swim Deep's 'She Changes The Weather', the unmistakeable voice of Jonas Bjerre declares, "I'd rather be a satellite" and '+-' springs into action. At just over six minutes in length, not a single second is wasted as the word "epic" springs to mind, and not for the last time. While both 'Witness' and 'The Night Believer' hark back to the radio friendly demeanour of 'No More Stories' - the latter eerily similar in structure to Sia's 'Chandelier' courtesy of guest vocalist Kimbra Lee Johnson's dulcet tones - 'Clinging To A Bad Dream' veers off into another universe entirely. "I know it's difficult," insists Bjerre as the first three minutes replicate Idlewild as a progressive rock outfit before metamorphosing into an orchestral beast of gargantuan proportions by its finale.

Their use of orchestral sounds and interludes isn't just confined to that one piece. Beforehand, 'Making Friends' offers a respite from its slap bass leanings by way of a beautifully arranged stringed segment. As does the introspective 'Interview The Girls', Bjerre at his most plaintive relaying "You tell me so many harsh words" over a backdrop of glacial and occasionally swoonsome atmospherics. It's the sound of Mew at their most affected (and ultimately, effective). Or at least would be were it not for the two colossal dynamos that lay in waiting. Saving the best until last, '+-' serves up a double whammy in the shape of 'Rows' and 'Cross The River On Your Own'. At just seventeen seconds short of the eleven minutes mark, the former's sophisticatedly graceful presence and unflinching grandiosity allude to the halcyon days of 'Comforting Sounds', so long the band's signature piece. "I'm still lost without you," begs Bjerre before the atmosphere changes from despair to celebratory elation. For any other band this would be the perfect exit. The closing statement. The end. But then Mew aren't just any other band. 'Cross The River On Your Own' is introduced by way of a simple piano melody only to erupt into a dramatic ending fit for the closing credits of a blockbuster movie.

There's a lesson to be learned here. By taking their time and revisiting old ground, Mew have crafted one of 2015's finest collections to date. A triumphant return which is unlikely to be bettered this year.


Dom Gourlay

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