Danish progressive rockers Mew are hard to pin down. At all times, their music is characterized by Bo Madsen’s signature guitar, Jonas Bjerre’s falsetto and their penchant for anthemic rock. But this can manifest itself in the form of harsh rock, melodic alt-rock and even venture into pop. The unknown from album to album is just where their sound will fall on that pop spectrum. 2009’s No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry They Washed Away // No More Stories, The World is Grey, I’m Tired, Let’s Wash Away was all ambition, layering rock instrumentation and even experimenting with backmasked hidden tracks. In contrast, Mew’s follow-up + – features glossy mixing and arrangements that lend themselves to pop more than anything else but still revel in the ethereal.

Lead single “Satellite” manages in its six minutes to include virtually every Mew sound. Opening with a light harp, the track shifts between syncopated rock and luscious pop hooks. Bjerre’s vocals are airy and pristine, cutting through the chugging guitars and percussion. Tempo switches abound – a key feature of the entire album – and allow such conflating of musical styles to accompany the band’s ever-obtuse lyrics in one song. That knack for combining what seems to be several distinct songs into one rears its head again on “Rows,” the album’s designated epic track. Clocking in at ten minutes, “Rows” aims for an ambient soundscape and peppers in piano solos, soaring synths and a prolonged outro of dissonant keys.

Mew’s skin-tingling choruses pop up even more than before on this upbeat album. On “The Night Believer” and “Water Slides,” Bjerre shares the chorus with Kimbra for short, sweet and simple pop tracks. The latter’s beat ventures into R&B, a surprising element that also features on “Making Friends” and is encouraged by an infectious funk guitar riff. But with tracks like “Interview the Girls,” it’s hard to believe this is still Mew. The song – with its sugary chorus – sounds like any number of sunny songs that play ad infinitum on pop radio.

Even when the album gets darker and the music more industrial, the songs invariably snap back into glossy mode. “Witness” is a chugging, guitar-driven track well-suited to Mew’s stadium rock, but it is ostensibly a blip on + –. Elsewhere on the album, heavier tracks never sustain their oomph before melting into lighter fare. “Clinging to a Bad Dream,” for instance, opens with street sounds before committing to a tinny pipe percussion. Another funky guitar line gives way to overwhelming reverb that blends with pseudo-mechanical vocals from Bjerre for a spacious finale. Bloc Party’s Russell Lissack seems to be in on it, too: he appears on “My Complications,” his guitar switching from a crystalline opening riff over glittery keys to jarring punk-rock progressions and back again.

On paper, this robust blend of power ballads, pop songs, all-out rock and stadium anthems seems incongruous, to say the least. But, as always, Mew continues to make music as only they can. So, when they add new elements or play off of popular radio themes, it is always couched in their ethereal prog-rock. + – is less an assault on the senses (as with previous Mew output) than it is a smooth, endlessly grandiose experience that showcases the band’s extreme range.

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