Mew! How adorable! My wife and I think this name is the cutest. It reminds of us sweet and cuddly little kittens. Is the band Mew cuddly? Well, cuddly like wrapping yourself in the patch-cable-arms of a Moog Modular synth might be, or burrowing down into the blankets with your cherished vinyl copy of Moving Pictures. Denmark’s Mew is prog as hell, but don’t hold that against them.
After the raucous instrumental opener “Circuitry of the Wolf,” with clanging guitars and violent drumming, And the Glass Handed Kites shows more of its true colors with a segue into “Chinaberry Tree” with its thumping beat, pulsing bass and a focus on atmosphere due to layers of sweeping synths and stratospheric vocals with lots of reverb.
Here a quartet (they recently lost their bassist Johan Wohlert who became a father), the guys in Mew has been friends since 7th grade, and even then started to become known as the ‘artsy kids.’ After some early musical learning experiences, they came back as Mew in their late teens, and released their first album A Triumph for Man in 1997 and since then two more. Kites is their most adventurous to date, starting with a crazy Yes-style plan to make a 60-minute song. They didn’t quite fulfill that ambition, but the album does flow almost unnoticeably from one song to another, and while there are definite individual songs within, there is a common distinctive dark feel. People with the patience for Coheed should surely check this out, but even if you don’t think you have the attention span for prog, give Mew a chance. Only two songs go over 5 minutes, and the running time of 55 minutes is 20 minutes shorter than the last two albums by the Mars Volta.
“The Zookeeper’s Boy” was the first to really grab me and burrow into my brain, even though the lighthearted second verse lyrics are a bit strange to hear after seeing the four Andrew WK-style badass portraits in the booklet ("You’re tall just like a giraffe / You have to climb to find its head / But if there’s a glitch / You’re an ostrich / You’ve got your head in the sand”). And then there’s the chorus with its awesome sugary falsetto melody which they drag out at the end, stripping away everything but the lead vocal and twisting backing vocals. “Apocalyso” is killer as well, with its chorus of chugging guitars under more sky-high vocals, though the words seem strange: "Care-line, care-line / Thumped it up / What are your stories all about? / Carries a weight on her swing / On her swing." Then, countering Jonas Bjerre’s stratospheric range, one of their influences, J. Mascis, helps out on verse vocal duties on another solid track “Why Are You Looking Grave?” Bonus!
While Mew is technical, shown through the tripping multi-meter of “An Envoy to the Open Fields,” they don’t flaunt guitar prowess or anything, but I call them ‘prog’ for ‘progressive’ because they are so huge and out there. You could also call them space rock or dream pop (as allmusic does), but their album length ambitions and bizarre worlds make them prog to me. Although comparisons could be made to all different kinds of bands -- notably ambitious types like Radiohead, spacey weirdoes like Sigur Ros and epic rockers like Coheed -- there is really no one doing what Mew is now. Though it’s not an all-out unique direction, Mew does it so well that they have become superstars in their home country as well as the UK; in both they have received numerous awards.
Can North America handle Mew? Can we put our guard down enough to let in a band this different and un-punk? Are they too progressively cuddly? Leave the macho bullshit behind and let in the weird world of Mew. I bet you’ll thank me later.