Vinyl Vlog 221

Vinyl Vlog 221

Monday, 22 May 2017

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Visuals LP by Mew.
Without intending to come off as terribly cynical, it’s rare to be genuinely and truly surprised by by some new music recorded in this current age of formula and digital sameness now present in every quadrant of popular music. Often, it seems as though artists set the tone for what they plan to do on a new release within seconds of its beginning, and the success or failure of the album lies in whether or not that first idea is strong enough to sustain an entire long-playing record. Now, I’m not saying that such designs are guaranteed to produce poor results (there have been lots of albums which play this way that I absolutely adore), just that it’s at least occasionally exciting to find an album which sets a tone and then seeks to move beyond it. The growth (or even just the implication of it) and surprises which come with it can make for the sort of enthralling experience which wins fans to a band’s banner for life.

That kind of mind-fucking, eye-opening, consciousness-expanding moment exists roughly ten seconds into the running of “Candy Pieces All Smeared” the third song on Danish alt-rock band Mew’s seventh studio album Visuals. Prior to that point on the album, the group erected a clean, largely electronic and safe-sounding sonic microcosm in which to operate that no fan of pretty, European pop-rock would turn away from. The first two cuts on the album, “Nothingness and No Regrets” and “The Wake Of Your Life” easily present that easy-to-please and electronic impression as singer/multi-instrumentalist Jonas Bjerrehans it up in front of a pleasant wall of electronic sounds. The way he delivers lines like, “In our polyester death/ There is nothingness and no regrets/ Oh, I’m thinking of numbers/What’s your number?” feels relaxing and easy-to-like – particularly with the warm, sweet and high vocal register with which its delivered sounding flawless, and those listening will feel their muscles begin to soften as they ease into the listening experience. “The Wake of Your Life” reasserts that sort of magnetic sensation too, but then “Candy Pieces All Smeared Out” stomps in with giutars and martial rhythms blazing and totally ruptures the whole fucking thing. There is just absolutely no similarity between track three and the first two; all of a sudden, the band spontaneously grows teeth and bares them at listeners as guitars snarl and grind, Johan Wohlert’s bass takes a deeper and more driving role and the drums crack a little more like thunder. While Bjerre’s vocal presence stays its tonal course unchanged, it seems to present a contrast to the suddenly much darker sound here and completely recasts the impression that the song leaves when it goes; suddenly the sound (and the band, by extension) seems to express an entirely different depth.

After “Candy Pieces All Smeared Out” rocks listeners and shakes their foundations the way it does, nothing about Mew and Visuals quite goes back to the way it was again. After that, “A Better Place” – which follows it and plays a lot like the first two songs on the album did, really – seems a little more desperate as the singer begs listeners to trust in him, but the hook which will catch listeners is the driving instrumental refrain which appears between verses. Likewise, the bass part which lurks like a seething undertone in “Ay Ay Ay” will have listeners just waiting for the band to explode as they work their way through to end the side. It never does – the song just sort of lays up in an emotional holding pattern (complete with lyrics like, “Here we are, where we were,” it almost seems as though the band wants to taunt listeners) – but the way it holds up feels salacious as listeners are made to wait anxiously the flip the record over to find what might hit them on its B-side.

…And, while the album’s B-side never does get quite as active as “Candy Pieces All Smeared Out” did, listeners will find some solid and captivating performances which straddle the sonic lines between “surly” and “sweet” there. The side opens meekly with “Learn Our Crystals” which sort of mixes heart-on-its-sleeve lyrics a la Peter Cetera with light and airy instruments included which come dangerously close to sounding like the lighter and more faceless side of The Beach Boys (think “Kokomo,” but with less heart) but immediately begins resolving that false start with the more stumbly-of-beat and frustrated-of-demeanor “Twist Quest” and the wistful vibes of “Shoulders,” which have the added benefit of being introspective (listeners may be able to feel the hurt in Bjerre’s voice when he confesses that he was late again). The progression through the side is not flawless (when the band tries to trip back to Beach Boys territory for “Zanzibar,” it’s hard to not lift the needle because, well, Mew’s impression of The Beach Boys just isn’t that good), but it’s impossible to not find at least a few of the songs on the B-side more than enough to sustain one’s interest.

So, standing back from the album, there’s no question that running front-to-back with Visuals is a great and satisfying experience. Sure – there are a couple of stumbles along the way, but the stumbles are far out-weighed by the successes on the album; when the band is on, they’re right on and the moments when the group reaches out of the album’s standard (again, most notably “Candy Pieces All Crushed Out”) are electrifying. It’s that combination which will have those who find Visuals coming back when the announcement comings that Mew will be releasing their eighth album.


Visuals is out now. Buy it here on Amazon. 

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