Danish prog/indie rock group Mew typically take several years off in between albums, but their seventh full-length, Visuals, comes just two years after 2015's +- and marks their first without guitarist Bo Madsen. The quick turnaround time, combined with the absence of one of their founding members, is noticeable, and marks a slight shift in Mew's usual dynamic of sharp, irregular melodies and glowing warmth.
On Visuals, Mew still sound magnificent and ornate as ever, with soaring strings and sparkling synth flourishes reaching stadium-level heights. But the now-trio is lacking the jagged precision of Madsen's agile and spiky guitar playing. Cuts like "Twisted Quest" and lead single and album closer "Carry Me to Safety" compensate by emphasizing silky saxophones and deep, jaunty bass lines, contributing to the ever-expanding Mew repertoire of sounds. But while these songs are compelling additions to Mew's genre-bending canon, few other parts of the record feel similarly inspired.
That's not to say Visuals is entirely disappointing. Frontman Jonas Bjerre's wide-eyed, otherworldly vocals remain one of the most alluring in rock music, and drummer Silas Jørgensen's theatrical percussion adds a powerful edge into Mew's most lofty songs. The band's celestial tendencies are present — they just could've used some more time to be honed to perfection.
Visuals is drenched in grandiosity, but many of its songs are devoid of proper exploration; instead of pushing the limits, they often feel idle. By Mew's high standards, it sounds as lavish as you'd expect, but it finds the group of veteran musicians in transition. (Play It Again Sam)