Mum - Smilewound

by Priscilla Eyles Rating:6.5 Release Date:2013-09-09

Múm are an Icelandic experimental electronic pop group formed in 1997, who share the quirkiness of fellow Icelandic artists like Kira Kira, Amina and of course Björk. In their latest effort Smilewound they have gone back to a more accessible electro-acoustic sound filled with contrasts suggested by the album title (songs often containing a violent imagery/gentle sounds, slow melodies/skittery scattergun percussion duelling aesthetic) after making the instrumental 2012 album Early Birds.

The opening song Toothwheels fulfils on this return to accessibility by being immediately engaging filled with glitchy computer game-like and snare-like sounds and a head-nodding quiet but insistent pounding and synthetic alternately clapping percussive line, beautifully counter-balanced with the warm and rich sound of staccato and bowed strings and piano and topped off with some beautifully nuanced vocals from Hildur Guðnadóttir (though I may be wrong about this, just an assumption) and a great instrumental outro that reminded me of Plaid. The lyrics are elliptical, and more for sound then sense with lyrics such as "In a world of complete make-believe/There's a chance to practice what we preach". And lord knows what 'toothwheels' are but it doesn't matter because the music is strong and is Múm at their very best.

Similarly catchy and beautiful moments occur on songs such as Slow Down which has a nicely ambient and spacey reverbed synth/keyboard line, contrasted with some jittery layered and electronic percussion, off-kilter rhythms, scratches and descending glass/metallic-like sounds which nicely builds to include strings and a nice lyrical solo cello line (Guðnadóttir also plays cello). The lyrics are this time rather simplistic with its repeated chorus of "I'm in love with you" but again the music more than makes up for it.

While songs like Candlestick go along at a nice urgent and pace and has a nice oscillating and juddering synth line with more interesting lyrics about restrained violence in a love/hate relationship. While One Smile starts off with interesting ambient fairy-like bubble-like sounds and glockenspiel which gradually builds to introduce another insistent beat and a very funky 5-note bass-line riff (reminiscent of Efterklang) and Eastern-sounding strings (reminiscent of Debut-era Björk) with a frantically strummed guitar.

The Colourful Stabwound also benefits from a great rhythm track (some great complex frenetic drumming from Samuli Kosminen who really comes into his own on this track) and similarly funky bassline high up in the mix, contrasted with gentle piano chords and a spacey electronic riff and a lovely gentle vocal with again contrasting violent and ugly imagery ("I stabbed a scratch and spewed my bile").

Instrumental interlude 'Eternity is the Wait Between Breaths' provides an interesting breather in the album, with its strings and toy piano it sounds quite Yann Tiersen-like and is pretty, intricate and whimsical without being sentimental. The Kylie Minogue duet closer 'Whistle', meanwhile, is not as interesting, drags a little bit too much and the production seems a little too like Múm by numbers , but does make Minogue seem even cooler for her unusual choice of collaborators and contains one of her best and most sensitive vocal performances.

Also not as interesting are the moments when they just get far too cutesy and child-like for their own good (much like childish revellers Coco Rosie). These moments occur in songs like When Girls Collide which could almost be a slice of J-pop and which is over-glitchy. While Sweet Impressions starts off reasonably well with it's rolling rhythms and anthemic sound but is ruined by a silly outro with annoying cartoonish electronics and cloying melodies, lyrics and vocals("You've got time for love").

Not a consistently good album then but one which grows on you and intrigues with its interplay of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, and complex layers and probably Múm's best work to date and the album which could bring them much more recognition.

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