I really want this album to be stronger than it actually is: a forgettable throwback to those halcyon days when the term “shoegazer” was somewhat novel and when bands effectively created epic swells with nothing more than feedback, guitar pedals, and a dash of studio trickery.
It’s not that I’m against “epic swells,” and Lord knows that I’ve listened to enough Spiritualized and Pink Floyd to appreciate symphonic arrangements. What I do have a problem with is a band that teases me with lush atmospheres, hinting at My Bloody Valentine the entire time, and with barely a hint of the guitar leaving Cape Canaveral’s launch pad. If you’re going to come off as a “space rock” band, then for God’s sake, leave the atmosphere and don’t forget to actually rock when you’re weightless. Mew takes their influences and somehow manages to completely devoid them of any bite. What’s left is the equivalent of leaving an opened two-liter bottle of Coke in the fridge for a week: cold, flat and with plenty of sugar.
Mew, a Danish quartet (not to be confused with a Pokeman character of the same name) released their fourth album And The Glass Handed Kites last year in Europe. Sony waited almost a year to release it domestically, and now we have an opportunity to hear what many have considered one of Denmark’s greatest exports.
It starts promising with “Circuitry Of The Wolf”; six string squalls and distorted drums setting an expectation that we may have another guitar-oriented dreamweapon. At around the 65 second mark, the first hint of a piano appears, then the first time change, and then a voice. Vocalist Jonas Bjerre appears in fine angelic form, and it’s his voice that becomes the album’s consistent focal point.
“There’s a taste that you can’t shake,” they declare in “Special” (Win). I know what they’re talking about. By the halfway mark, I was wishing Bjerre’s wings would melt; his voice is very capable while managing to be frustratingly limited within the confines of the insole of a shoegazer. Sure, the fella has range, but show me a little insight into why you’re getting worked up on every friggin’ track.
The reason I’m so hard on this album is because it has the potential to be something so much better. There are moments of brilliance: the shimmering “Why Are You Looking Grave?” (featuring J Mascis on guest vocals), the track “White Lipts Kissed” finally manages to give the listener one of the most heartfelt lines with its chorus of “I don’t cry when your silver lining shows” and much of the album’s last few tracks provide the most memorable moments. The best moment comes at the tail end of “Kites” when the music completely fades out, leaving Bjerre vulnerably pleading “Stay with me / Don’t want to be alone.” So give me another half dozen tracks like the most delicate moments in And The Glass Handed Kites and you’ve got yourself an album that ranks alongside Loveless without trying to sound like it. Until they do, there’ll be a lot of us still patiently waiting for Kevin Shields to come out of retirement and remind us all how bands content with looking at their shoes are able to achieve liftoff. Mew works best when there’s someone on the ground, securely holding their kite strings.