Iceland’s Múm – the name seemingly a made-up word with no real-lifemeaning – are often described as pioneers of folktronica, their previousfive albums since their inception in 2000 displaying much of theirhomeland’s trademark quirk and charm.
This time round sees a soft, almost restrained collection of tracks,perhaps making up in mellifluous calm what it lacks – sometimes – in thefire and dazzle that characterised much of 2007’s Go Go Smear The PoisonIvy. The drowsy vocals, particularly apparent in the album’s opening andclosing tracks (If I Were A Fish, Ladies Of The New Century), thebreathiness of A River Don’t Stop To Breathe, and the soporific repetitionused on several tracks all contribute to the creation of a discernable anddistinct atmosphere. This is a band that can create and maintain a world ofits own, with its own internal logic, then gently share it with thelistener.
The key theme here seems to be water. From the opener’s ponderings onthe likelihood of romance between a fish and a seashell, to the underwatersounds running through tracks like the excellent Sing Along, to numerousreferences in titles (A River Don’t Stop To Breathe) or lyrics (“In thesewords we drown”, “Bathwater tides come in”, “The last shapes of someone /Who swims in the dark deep lake” and so on), a liquid ebb and flow pervadesthe whole album.
This works well to nicely offset the otherwise occasionalobscurity or nonsensical nature of the lyrics – “Hullabbalabaluu / Say kingsof Avalon”, for example, or much of the shivery, unsettlingKay-Ray-Ku-Ku-Ko-Kex – and contributes much to its gentle appeal.
As one would expect from the genre descriptions, the band mix musicalelements judiciously and expertly. Bleeps and glitches (The Smell Of TodayIs Like Breast Milk In The Wind), strange synthesised “boing boing” noisesand underwater gurgles combine with that oldest of old fashioned instrumentsthe harpsichord (If I Were A Fish), violins and violas (syrupy on A RiverDon’t Stop To Breathe, orchestral on Illuminated, beautiful, sombre andevocative on Blow Your Nose), piano and brass.
The production sometimesfrustrates by creating a sheen, polish and sweetness that is just blanderthan a band that is clearly this experimental and creative ought to besounding, with the worst culprits being Prophecies and Reversed Memories andThe Smell Of Today… Elsewhere there is the occasional surprising countrytwang, most noteably on If I Were A Fish, with its steel guitar and lovelornair.
In short, then, these twelve tracks make for diverting and beguilingcompany for the fifty or so minutes spent with them. Like a cool glass of(what else?) water they can be sometimes bland yet at other times crisp andrefreshing, and are more often vital than otherwise. Take a slurp.