Posted on April 29th, 2015 (10:00 am) by Michael Negron

Five years since a studio album. Nearly a decade without original bassist Johan Wohlert. Coming off the latest entry in a nearly critically-flawless discography. Even a guest slot with Kimbra. To say that Mew’s latest album, the odd but aptly-titled +-, has hype surrounding it is a painful understatement. Critical darlings that they are, it’s not unreasonable to wonder the direction that Mew will go here; it’s pretty much a given that they’ll employ their signature flamboyance and lofty goals, and with this being their largest studio work to date it seems as though they’ve finally decided to forgo criticisms of other lofty prog-esque acts who frequently see terms like “indulgent” thrown at them. And why not? They’ve got the technical chops, they’ve taken risks before – in fact, to many they’re known for that – so why not indulge a little? Well, while Mew doesn’t steam full-force in that direction instrumentally, the drawbacks when put in to practice are excruciatingly obvious.

The strongest case for this is actually in one of the songs that indulges the least: “Water Slides.” Even going into the album blind, it’s obvious single-bait. The structure is much more pop-oriented, but it’s not the pop structure that makes this an interesting addition, and really an abnormality; it succeeds in the same capacity attempted by all the songs on the album – grand, sprawling passages paired with lighter, intricately-woven verses and interludes. However, it does so because it does what most of the rest of the album does not: tone it down. There’s nothing wrong with being lofty, and Mew has both the talent and the vision to pull this off to at least some effect, but for so often being labeled as “experimental” or “art,” many of the songs that try to go all the way out there end up feeling formulaic. Almost half the album begins quietly with a single instrument, melody, or line before proceeding to a dense, reverberating climax cued by momentary silence or rapid change / ascent (“Satellites,” “Making Friends,” “Clinging to a Bad Dream,” “Interview the Girls”).

Does that make them bad? Not at all. “Satellites,” in particular, serves as a strong opening track and stands fairly well on its own. Often, it’s not noticed until highlighted by one of the tracks that doesn’t follow that structure. When it is highlighted, though, it’s very obvious. The first two songs gain from a natural interplay between the themes in “Satellites” that are stripped and augmented in “Witness,” making you think that you’re about to get a full album of well-paced variation. Instead, a select group of songs, mostly in the much better latter half of the album, stand in opposition to the rest because they don’t have a unifying element in the way much of the early album does. The mammoth “Rows” slogs along at a more methodical pace than anything else on the album, but allows itself to breathe in less intense moments. “My Complications” has a chorus that fits perfectly with the status quo of the rest of the work, but it’s coupled with a recurring riff that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Dream Theater album. “Cross the River On Your Own” is the most cathartic moment, despite being the second longest track on the album, and showcases that Mew can get across the ideas presented without being succinct or direct. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of holes.

None of the songs on +- are really “bad,” or even boring on first listen, but as the album progresses the mismanagement of ideas and the lack of self-editing becomes increasingly apparent. It’s notable that this is Mew’s longest studio album, and it shows even though it shouldn’t. Mew has the technical proficiency and artistic acuity to pull off something much longer than this, and the work is far from irredeemable even at its worst, which only makes it all the more disappointing. Still, as the title might imply, even at their worst Mew provides a mixed bag delicacy only they could deliver, nothing more, nothing less.

Track List:

  1. Satellites
  2. Witness
  3. The Night Believer
  4. Making Friends
  5. Clinging To A Bad Album
  6. My Complications
  7. Water Slides
  8. Rows
  9. Cross The River On Your Own
Mew - +- Review
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

62 / 100
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