It’s a shame that Mew’s No More Stories… is coming out during summer’s last gasp, because the album’s 14 tracks sound just like winter. Songs float and die like your breath in sub-zero temperature. The synths sound alternately like melting icicles and beams of light shining between leafless trees covered in snow. A warning: After listening to it, you’re liable to come down with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
No More Stories… is Mew’s fifth album of prog-rock crossed with post-rock, and their first since 2005’s enthusiastically received And the Glass Handed Kites. You never exactly know how seriously to take Mew, since they tiptoe between being pretentious and happily bombastic. No More Stories… was originally titled 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, and there are two songs here that have pictures for titles, which makes clear Mew are coming down on the former part of that line.
No More Stories… is a more downbeat effort than Glass Handed Kites, with a new found emphasis on Sigur Ros-like melodrama and stadium balladry that Mew have toyed with in bursts on past albums, but completely commit to here. The results can be less than perfect, but they pull it off with a decent batting average. “Cartoons and Macramé Wounds” is the album’s seven-minute centerpiece, veering between an interstellar middle and a swelling chorus that sounds like it was recorded in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. “Hawaii” does sound vaguely tropical, but its clashing chorus and percussive elements suggest a bummer rather than a blast on the beach. “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy” sums up the album’s ethos better than any other track, building upon the reductive message with a kids’ chorus and a chilly army of hand claps.
The monumental, theatrical sound of No More Stories… can sometimes skew worse than tedious (especially toward the album’s middle third), but there are a few tracks that lighten the mood. The vaguely menacing “Introducing Palace Players” and the effervescent “Beach” blend pop chops with Mew’s tendency to bury things in atmospherics. “Repeaterbeater” is Mew’s Black Sabbath moment; it has a bruising riff that can only be sustained in short segments because it sounds like it will fold back in on itself.
The differences between Mew records are like the differences between the Back to the Future movies: You know what you’re getting with all of them, but each one has something moderately different to keep you (at least partially) interested. No More Stories… finishes Mew’s transition into the swirling, arena-rock monsters they’ve threatened to become all along, with reliably decent results, but it fails to top the blissful heights of Glass Handed Kits or the pop-theory class of Frengers.