Losing a member typically leads to a conventional band taking time off to reassess the situation, figure out what to do and then come back, if they even come back at all. In the case of Danish band Mew, they were already known for being far from conventional so it only made sense for the loss of a member to affect these guys differently. Starting from 2005’s And The Glass Handed Kites, the wait between the band’s albums spanned from 4 to 6 years which made fans antsy as they waited with bated breath for each album. When founding member and guitarist Bo Madsen left the band soon after the release of their sixth album, +-, fans became aggravated and expected the end of the band was near with such a big part of the band gone. Fortunately after touring on their previous album, they were back at home writing and recording what would turn out to be their seventh album, Visuals. With such a quick turnaround and the loss of a member, there’s bound to be thoughts of it being rushed and underwhelming, especially for a band that has never been quick with new material. Those worries can be subsided as Mew not only manage to supercede expectations, they prove that they’re just as capable as a trio.
Visuals’ title comes from the attempt to try something new and let the visuals inform the music as opposed to the other way around. This unconventional way of going at things doesn’t feel like it influences the music however, as Mew’s sound is merely a progression of 2015’s +-. With the departure of their guitarist, there’s less focus on guitars and more emphasis on the use of synths. There are songs like “Candy Pieces All Smeared Out” that contain sections filled with big heavy guitars, but they quickly dwindle down to relying on Visuals foundation of synths. It’s clear that the band’s focus is more on their synthpop sound than any other, but that’s not to say that the band is worthless as a trio. Opener “Nothingness and No Regrets” proves this as it builds a lush atmosphere with synths that’s not unlike anything else the band has done complemented by catchy melodies.
While a majority of the album is certainly less “out there” than the rest of their discography in terms of instrumentation, there are still songs like the 5-minute long “Learn Our Crystals” and “Twist Quest” that bring out at least part of the art-rock background of the band. Meanwhile, the album’s lyrics are as abstract as ever which lends itself to different interpretations. Mew explores various themes such as death (“Nothingness and No Regrets”) or the attempt of leaving something to be remembered for (“The Wake Of Your Life”), which are all wrapped around lush compositions filled with everything from synths and horns to the use of a sax. While there’s bound to be backlash to the more focused, synthpop sound, it only furthers the ideal that the band can continue reinventing themselves, but not lose their ability to create songs filled to the brim with different sounds and abstract lyrics.
Even with a founding member who played a massive role in crafting who they are today, Visuals still feels like a Mew album. It’s full of life, uniqueness and abstraction, it’s simply being crafted in a different style when compared to their previous outings. Lead single and closer “Carry Me To Safety” says it best as the last piano note plays and vocalist Jonas Bjerre softly lets out “We’re just coming home.” It’s a statement that couldn’t ring more true to where Mew stands now as Visuals is nothing less than a homecoming to a band that has stood tall throughout 22 years.