With new album set for launch, Danish space rockers Mew explore broader sounds
If, as Star Trek taught us, space is the final frontier, then what does that make space rock? Is it the furthest reaches of music, the exploration of which is both heroic and doomed? Is it the ultimate collaboration between man and machine, advanced technology and human ingenuity working in concert to boldly go where rocket man has gone before?
Probably not. But Mew sure make it sound that way.
Over the course of their two-decade career, Mew have established themselves as one of the preeminent purveyors of atmospheric arena rock, having forged a take-no-prisoners sound that puts the group in a league with acts like Muse, M83, Elbow and Secret Machines.
And they’ll bring their sound to The StubHub Music Experience at the South by Southwest Music Festival, helping close the three-night festival on March 19.
On +/-, the band’s first album in six years and sixth overall, the Danish quartet has turned in some of its most otherworldly jams to date. Due out in April, the album kicks off with the new single, “Satellite.” Launching from a bed of plucked harp chords, the tune rockets skyward, ultimately bursting into an epic chorus as Jonas Bjerre declares, “I’d rather be a satellite!” It’s one of dozens of hair-raising moments on an album that’s as ambitious about its earworm hooks as its extended instrumental workouts.
The sleek production and shimmering chorus of “The Night Believer” evokes images of a bullet train speeding through a future metropolis, while “Witness” is a three-minute battle cry with staffing guitars and Bjerre’s falsetto wailing. For a band that’s never shied away from grandiosity, +/- contains some of Mew’s biggest gestures yet, such as the epic “Rows,” which travels a dizzying number of soundscapes in its 11 minutes and is officially the longest song in the band’s catalog.
“It’s even longer than ‘Comforting Sounds,'” says Bjerre. “That was one of the earlier ones that we did. And it went through a lot of transformations. And it changed a lot after Johan came back, actually.”
Bjerre is referring to Johan Wolhart, Mew’s bassist, who left the band in 2006 to spend more time with his family before returning halfway through the sessions for +/-. Bjerre credits the band’s reunion with its founding bassist as key to the sound they achieved on the new album.
“We didn’t want do the same thing again,” he says, referring to No More Stories, the album Mew recorded in 2008 without Wolhart. “When we started writing [+/-], we were doing the same thing over. And part of that was not having a bass player. When you don’t have anyone playing the root notes it limits your ability to do things harmonically.”
After muddling along through the initial sessions, the band took producer Michael Beinhorn’s suggestion to ring up Wolhart.
“We needed that little push,” says Bjerre. “And then really fast it just felt like [Wolhart] had never been gone.”
Having their old bass player back didn’t change the time it took for the band to write and record the album, however, a process that seems to take longer and longer as Mew’s career progresses, despite everyone’s best efforts to the contrary.
“We kind of break our own record each time,” says Bjerre. “We keep telling ourselves that the next one will be faster. But after writing, recoding and touring since 2001, I think we were just a little tired. We took a break and everyone did different things. And then slowly, we started getting together and writing again. Then we got Michael Beinhorn as a producer and he was very perfectionistic about the songs. It was kind of like having two very perfectionistic views on things. It took a long time.”
That’s the thing about exploring the cosmos: It takes forever, and you may not be the same person when you come back.