Although Sufjan Stevens has ostensibly cornered the market on the “concept album” these days, Mew, a prog rock outfit out of Denmark, is reviving and improving upon the rock opera concept with their latest release, a grandiose — and often ostentatious — album that is true to epic form. And the Glass Handed Kites is a dense odyssey that borders on being mathematical with intricate and deliberate compositions and unexpected changes in meter and rhythm.
At times, Mew evokes My Bloody Valentine’s characteristic fury of reverb-laden guitar riffs layered over earnest pop melodies. Through all of this carefully calculated commotion, Jonas Bjerre’s vocals soar sweetly and majestically, resulting in an equally ethereal — if not slightly more decipherable — Sigur Rós lyrical experience.
And the Glass Handed Kites not only pays homage to the gods of prog rock’s past by delivering a brand of balls out, full-throttle rock, but it is also an amelioration of generic conventions of both rock and pop, elegantly fusing both into a dark and dreamy atmospheric soundscape. “Circuitry of the Wolf” — the album’s opener — clambers to a start with rhythm-less cymbal crashes and hesitant guitar squeals, teeming with bottled energy that is finally released when the drums explode into two solid minutes of hard thumping rock sans vocals.
From there And the Glass Handed Kites takes off and never looks back. “Why Are You Looking So Grave?” is a dark yet hauntingly uplifting track that is Mew’s nod to early Radiohead‘s more-rock-less-computers Pablo Honey and The Bends era, while “Special” and “The Zookeeper’s Boy” are paradoxically aggressive and docile rock that are threaded with sensitive narrative lyrics and honey drop vocals.
And the Glass Handed Kites is an unabashedly over-the-top and ambitious effort, the innovation of which reminds us that intelligent, calculated rock — that doesn’t take itself too seriously — still exists.