As darlings to the emo-prog diehards, Danish trio Mew have long been known for their ambitious, meticulous arrangements and progressive sonic design that’s best described as more dramatic Pinback meat with a distinct Isis flavor.
Thankfully, the reputation of dark grandeur that preceded them has largely been traded out for space-pop on their obnoxiously titled but beautifully executed fifth album, 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. Arriving hot on the heels of June’s promising No More Stories EP, the album is a surprisingly optimistic affair that does a good job of convincing the listener that Mew might finally be within screaming range of the dreamy magnificence they’ve long aspired to.
No More Stories/Are Told Today was produced by Rich Costey, who worked the knobs for their breakthrough album Frengers. It’s the band’s first album as an official three-piece after bassist Johan Wohlert left to spend time with his family, and the remaining members have at last come untethered from their shoegazing rut in his absence.
It’s been discovered that if played backwards, opening track New Terrain is revealed to be another song, titled Nervous. Upon first discovery of the classic little trick it’s nearly an annoyance, but closer analysis reveals an intricate framework to the song that maintains melody and lyrical structure throughout each opposing side. The same can also be said for much of the album; the layers are thick and deep throughout most of No More Stories…
The murky complexion of Repeater Beater is buoyed by Jonas Bjerre’s breathy, earnest vocal. By entering the verse a beat before the rest of the music, Bjerre manages to anchor your attention back from the swaying rhythm like hooks in the ears. A Dream fades in softly, ethereal vocal phrasing matching the piano note for note. A fitting atmosphere for the title, gone before the dream is fully realized. It slips abruptly into Hawaii, a tinkering sweet-spot sunshine declaration of love. At the 2:15 mark the track explodes into a cascading wash of layered choral vocals and cymbals before returning to the beauty of its onset.
Drummer Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen has a subdued style that’s developed into a collection of kit intricacies that add a fourth dimension to Mew’s sound, allowing for just that extra hint of magic that often serves as the song’s selling point. The two tracks provide an appreciated break from the breathy, meandering pulse of the rest of the album, whereas Vaccine returns to form, building on a prog-emo vibe with an ’80s drama-pop shine. That’s a quality owed largely to the heavy-handed keyboard/synth work on the album, which fills the perimeters of Tricks and Beach, the latter of which bears a screaming likeness to Duran Duran at the starting point. Despite being an album highlight, Beach is a victim of grandiose arrangements calling back to synthmospheres of the ’80s.
The sea of synths and keyboard indulgence on No More Stories…, not to mention the vocal backups in triplicate, is certainly heavy-handed – though not nearly to the garish extent of a band like Muse. They’re certainly going for a feeling, a distinct atmosphere, but not to an extent that you’re bashed over the head with it. The vocal tricks are most prominently evident – and most successfully executed – on Silas The Magic Car, a pensive Pinback derivative that rises to gorgeous heights of sedation.
Intermezzo 1 & 2 are pleasant enough, disposable asides that they are, and cleanse the palette between stark mood shifts, such as between the punchy space-drama Tricks and the shimmering epic Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy. Without a buffer, the atmospheric changeup would be a shock to the system. The seven-plus minute Cartoons & Macramé Wounds, meanwhile, is brimming with overlapping, counterplaying harmonies and a slow-boil rising sound that dissipates like a mist as it fades, leaving only Jonas’ layered humming, a soft snare roll and the general feeling that there’s a silver lining to be found after all.
While not as heavy-handed with the heaven tones as Sigur Rós, Mew manage to reach ambitious new heights – by lifting their chins just a bit. Aside from the all-in keyboard/synth indulgences, a light sense of optimism pervades the entire offering, a stark departure from its 2005 predecessor And The Glass Handed Kites, which reeked to the core of fear and pessimism. And the damn thing was essentially one long song. Things are looking much brighter for Mew these days, and No More Stories… is a promising glimpse of the future (the short-term of which consists of opening for Nine Inch Nails at some of their final shows ever).
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.