Mew Premiere “+-” at NPR

Danish prog-pop quartet Mew are streaming their new album, “+-,” via NPR’s First Listen. “+-” marks the band’s first studio recording since 2009’s “No More Stories…,” which scored favorable reviews from critics.

The band is currently set to tour Europe in May, beginning with a show at the Botanique in Brussels, Belgium. Mew’s tour is set to run through a number of European cities including Glasgow, Paris and Berlin.

More information regarding the band can be found at their official website.

Steven Wilson Reaches an Artistic Peak with “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”

With each new addition to Wilson’s solo discography, the esteemed British rocker edged closer to the brink of burying himself beneath an inescapable mound of nostalgia. The mysterious ambiance of 08’s “Insurgentes” quickly gave way to better, impeccably crafted records, but each progression sent Wilson further back in time until “The Raven…” threatened to drown him in a sea of mellotron and extended jams. Sure, the seventies may have come and gone, but for Wilson, that time never left. The reverence was beyond obvious, almost as if he’d captured the very essence of the decade into a frame, fixated and possessed all at once. “Hand. Cannot. Erase.,” though, marks another story. That frame, once revered like some religious obelisk, seems cast aside, left to collect dust in some darkened corner. For the first time in years, Wilson seems free of that all-consuming obsession, finally stretching creative muscles in ways that audiences haven’t heard in years. Welcome to 2015, Steve.

This isn’t to suggest that the seventies have been abandoned entirely. Rather, that sonic reverence has been refocused into a more nuanced expression in a larger artistic vision. Throughout “Hand. Cannot. Erase.,” Wilson draws from his entire repertoire, bringing ambient, electronica, pop and metal into the larger schematic of the record’s design. These disparate elements coalesce far more effectively than anyone might have imagined. “Ancestral,” the emotional peak of the album, seamlessly welds each of these varied methods together into a perplexingly logical whole. Stuttered electronic beats punctuate the distanced verses, setting a mood of perfect foreboding before the track, minutes later, erupts in a feverish rush of primal force. Wilson may not pen the most creative metallic riffs, but when timed to such perfection the effect is staggering. None of this craftsmanship would matter, though, without a solid production to bring the intricacies of Wilson’s music to life.

Fortunately, the Britain’s talent for sound engineering isn’t lost on “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” The record’s fourth cut, “Perfect Life,” exemplifies this knack for exceptional production as the mechanical rhythms give way to the track’s first verse and Wilson’s vocals pierce the ambience with chilling effect. It’s a rare moment when the audience not only hears the artist’s voice, but feels it, too – like a palpable presence emerging from the speakers. “Routine,” undoubtedly one of the album’s highlights, wouldn’t carry such weight without the spacious mix allowing the acoustic guitars, violins, keyboard and percussion each its own room to breathe in crowded company. Here, Wilson’s talents as a songwriter and aural mechanic work in tandem to bring the ambitious recording to life.

And, really, if one word could summarize Wilson’s latest offering, ambitious just might be the one. As the album winds through its tale of isolation, loss and love in the metropolitan jungles of fast-lane life, it becomes increasingly obvious that this isn’t just an important album: it’s a critical one. “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” tells a story that’s vital to so many of us. Track after track, it only becomes easier to imagine the frenzied rush through the swarm of silhouettes, blank faces immediately forgotten against the insanity of the bustling streets. It’s rare for a record to even conjure an emotional response like this, and its rarer still for that record to linger afterwards and demand further investment. Unfortunately, given Wilson’s penchant for the underground, mainstream recognition just isn’t in the cards — no matter how deserved it may be. But, we can dream. We can always lose ourselves in that sprawling monstrosity of modern metropolis, captivated, terrified, and dream to disappear.


The Art of Restraint and Subtlety

While staring blankly into the grey expanse outside my window, the sounds pouring from the speakers began to envelope the room. Surrounded, seemingly from all sides, I began to feel the swarming noise as if it was a physical entity – something palpable, something real. It might be an odd reaction to have given the particular song playing at the time. Constructed by a plaintive, repeating piano melody and soft, floating vocals, Grouper’s “Clearing” doesn’t seem like the kind of track to swell throughout any space, regardless of size. Sound, however, just like appearances, can be deceiving.

Comprised of only two instruments, “Clearing” serves as a perfect example of the power of restraint in music. Moreso than many songs conjuring tidal washes of reverb-drenched guitars, Grouper’s brand of ambience enveloped and engulfed me in sound. That’s because, unlike so many rock and metal songs from last year, Grouper’s Liz Harris knows how to evoke reaction beyond a racing heart. Rather, Harris applies her expertise towards the more rewarding goal of unraveling heartstrings.

It’s not just Grouper’s Harris who utilizes this approach, of course, but I wish more artists would take the “less is more” philosophy to heart. Every year, it seems as if pop music is becoming more extravagant, as if the music world needs a stronger dose of stimulation. From blaring horns to electric pulses, bombast is the name of the game. Current trends seem to suggest a musical arms race of epic proportions is well underway, and, frankly, that’s the last thing we need more of. Give me a “Pure Heroine” any day of the week over an “Artpop.”

The issue with this continual game of out-stimulating the audience is that these high-octane releases run the risk of desensitizing listeners to more nuanced excitement in music. Subtle transitions, clever chord progressions, and lyrical turns of phrase are all relegated to non-existent backgrounds where music goes to die. That’s what makes releases such as Lorde’s debut album so exciting; instead of emulating peers’ inclination towards higher decibel counts and more instrumentation, Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” opts for a bare-bones aesthetic to deliver her hook-laden songs, working to stunning effect. I’m looking forward to seeing popular artists record against the grain by taking this approach even further. Imagine an album comprised purely of melodic, memorable choruses supported by minimal, acoustic instruments. That may be something of a dream in today’s hyper-active world, but I can keep on dreaming.