Release Date: Sep 17, 2013
Record label: Morr Music
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
It was my 21st birthday, and I was driving from Reykjavik to the small village of Vik on the south central coast of Iceland. I was doing a year-long study abroad program at the University of Iceland and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the troll-ridden, windswept Icelandic countryside in the darkest depths of winter to celebrate my 21st birthday. With me was a young lady with whom I was hopelessly infatuated at the time.
As far back as their 2001 debut, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is Okay, experimental Icelandic collective Múm has been preoccupied with contrast and contradiction. The title of the band's sixth album, Smilewound, which seems to reference an especially devious form of torture employed by the Scottish mafia (and introduced to the global masses by way of The Dark Knight and myriad other pop media), is no exception. The deceptively titled “Time to Scream and Shout” is a gentle, burbling lullaby, things are not what they seem on the confessional “The Colorful Stabwound,” and lyrics like “Forget me now” are, naturally, immediately followed by appeals to “remember me.
Múm defined their approach -- twinkling electronics, wispy vocals, acoustic instrumentation here and there -- so clearly on their first few albums that the rest of the collective's work often seemed caught between staying in place and branching out. They do a little of each on Smilewound, which marks the return of founding member Gyða Valtýsdóttir, one half of the twin vocalists who helped craft Múm's signature sound. Adding her to the fold again allows the group to revisit the pastoral folktronica of yore, most potently on "Slow Down," a half-speed chase so delicate it sounds in danger of floating away before it can reach listeners' ears.
Few nationalities have a musical DNA quite as distinctive as the Icelandic. From their frozen isle in the far flung north-west fringes of Europe, a production line of quite remarkable productivity for a country of just over a quarter of a million inhabitants has rolled out one strikingly idiosyncratic band after another, starting with The Sugarcubes back in the late 1980s and continuing right up until the present day with Of Monsters And Men. Iceland’s dramatic geology of lava-belching volcanoes, gushing geysers and vast glaciers is perhaps most frequently associated with the epic majesty of Sigur Rós, but a real sense of place, of unique otherness, can be found in the work of many of their contemporaries too.
The constantly rotating membership of múm has made it difficult for fans to anticipate what a múm record should sound like. On 2009’s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, it became apparent that the band’s current interest lay more in weirdo pop music than the abstract sound experiments of their early albums. Smilewound, their sixth studio album, reinforces that more traditional pop structures surely here to stay, but you still couldn’t call them a pop band.
The Icelandic experimental pop troupe Múm was formed in 1997, just a few years after Sigur Rós, and they have always played like a more intimate answer to their country's definitive post-rock band, with a bigger soft spot for Aphex Twin. Blending sweeping classical and rock instrumentation with glitchy beats, ambient electronics, and stagy vocals, their music "taps into a spirit of childlike wonder." You will notice the scare quotes, which are there because even though Múm superficially telegraph ingenuous naiveté, the genuine article feels scarce. To a child, everything is vivid and interesting, but Múm's music can be very dull.
mumSmilewound[Morr; 2013]By Ray Finlayson; September 27, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIt’s no longer worth trying to figure out where múm are going, if they are actually going anywhere at all. Once their 2004 album Summer Make Good dropped, it looked like their fate was set: traditional instruments, collective childish vocals, and (attempts at) conventional song structures. They managed to execute those aims to varying degrees on Summer Make Good and on the two albums that followed it (2007’s Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy and 2009’s Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know), even if it wasn’t all happening at the same time or on the same song.
It’s easy to forget about múm. As Iceland’s third place musical export, they get a little lost in the shadow of Björk and Sigur Rós, their music as understated as the lower-case of their name and never screaming in a vie for our attention. For sixteen years the band have been quietly, quietly pushing their slow-builds of wispy vocals and glitchy beats, swelling strings and low-key piano, their albums closer to a dream state than a collection of songs.
Icelandic oddball pop ensemble, Múm, has always banked on their aesthetic of scoring a paracosmic universe with the chorus of an otherworldly orchestra. Although their childlike princess trope can get tiresome at times, it’s usually juxtaposed by sinister affectations like high-strung strings, staccato automaton-like beats and occasionally ambiguous lyrics that balance their arctic yin-yang. The Colorful Stabwound and Time To Scream And Shout are the best evidence of that theme this time around on their sixth album.
Múm’s sixth full length album edges away from the full-throated, folk melodies of 2009’s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, returning instead to the glitchily paced, twee pop of earlier years. Smilewound puts electronic rhythms right at the front of the mix, leaving tetchy space in their interstices. The organic elements of Sing Along — guitar, strings, piano and, especially voice – have receded to a sweet hum in the background, too sweet, perhaps to be real or moving.