Tuesday, December 15, 2009

#18. Mew - ...and the Glass-Handed Kites (Sony, 2005)

I understand why in some circles 'prog' is a 4-letter word (oh you know what I mean you literal-minded jackasses) but bear with me here if you are part of that sect of music listeners. I may not be a typical prog fan, someone who gets way too wrapped up in the lyrics of Yes albums or actually tries to defend the numerous excesses of Genesis and ELP, both musical and tonal, but I do have a soft spot for the genre. I can overlook the pomposity a lot of the time, especially if underneath that the music itself is good enough to merit that type of a listen, and usually it is. I can forgive moments of wankery if they feel at east somewhat natural to the progress of the song. I understand why some people can't look past that sort of thing, but it's worth it when it winds up with moments as great as some classic prog could manage. Why am I going on about this? Because I know a few people who got turned off of ...and the Glass-Handed Kites becaue it was basically Mew-gone-prog, and as far as I'm concerned that's missing the point by quite a bit. It's Mew-gone-prog, sure, but not in the way you're thinking of it. They aren't indulging in 5 minute solos or 15 minute suites about the plight of the fictional Elfloric people or Middle...yeah, you know what I'm talking about, they're simply applying a bit more of an epic scope to their already pretty great indie-pop.

I was a fan of their previous album, 2003's Frengers, but as good as that was it couldn't have prepared me for what lay in the wait. Like I said, this is Mew-gone-prog in the best possible way, an impeccably sequenced utterly gorgeous hour of some hybrid of art pop and shoegaze with the most swoon-inducing vocals this side of Kate Bush (come to think of it this could pass for a rocked out version of Hounds of Love in places). the progressive part applies more to the album's structure than to its music, with the songs bridging between each other in sometimes exhilarating ways and the songs themselves getting more complex and layered, especially the vocals. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a concept behind it too, but the lyrics always seem to be secondary to the sound of frontman Jonas Bjerre's voice, not in the 'singing to hear himself sing' way but in the use of his voice, sometimes in multiple layers, as another element of the album's instrumental palette. Besides, his lyrics have always been more evocative than concrete, and that seems to be the case here more than ever.

Besides, it isn't like the album needs a unified lyrical concept when it all sounds so damn gorgeous. Even the opening dissonance and angular riff of "Circuitry of the Wolf" winds up sounding immeasuarbly beautiful after that piano line and ethereal vocal choir takes over the track to lead it into the just as jagged in places but even more ethereal "Chinaberry Tree." It's odd, but I find that the transitions between the tracks are the album's best moments, especially the sections of the album where there's no breathing room between tracks. Just listen to the stretch from "Fox Cub" through to "A Dark Design" for the best of that type of thing; the way that the calm interlude of "Fox Cub" builds up to the spiky, frantic post-punk of "Apocalypso" whose ending one chord vamp seamlessly transitions into "Special"'s main riff which evolves into the off-center introduction of "The Zookeeper's Boy" whose ending vocal nirvana perfectly dissolves into the warm synth of "A Dark Design" almost puts the constituent songs in that set to shame. It probably would if we weren't talking about three of the strongest songs of the decade on their own and two essential pieces of dream pop on either end of them. Later on the transitions get more tenuous, but the songs that get to stand on their own are some of the most epic and beautiful. I'm talking about the last two tracks here, specifically "White Lips Kissed" which almost reaches the vocal sweet spot that "Zookeeper's Boy" set the bar for, then has Bjerre going even higher into falsetto as a military drum pattern emerges out of the haze, but "Louise Louisa" is far from a shadow of it, especially in its final moments when Bjerre sounds frail and broken as he closes the album with a plea of 'Stay with me/I don't want to be alone'. Really the only moment I can't find much love for is "The Seething Rain Weeps for You" but it's not like it's a bad song - and OK, the guitar solo over the last chorus is pretty awesome despite not being necessary - just a merely OK one in a sea of much better examples of what these guys can do.

Oh, and it's got a really fucking horrible cover just so we can get that out of the way. No way I can defend that piece of shit.

Video: "Why Are You Looking Grave (Edit)"
Video: "Apocalypso"
Video: "Special"
Video: "A Dark Design"

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