Album Review: múm – Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know

[Morr; 2009]

Icelandic band múm never have made dramatic shifts – the traditional instruments, which are now at the forefront of their music, were there from the start. Rather it would be more accurate to say that changes have been almost natural. The electronic sweeps and landscapes which majestically flew around in debut album Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is Ok worked so well beside trumpets, guitars and strings that you barely noticed them at first. Since then they have brought the instruments to the foreground in attempt to construct more traditional “songs” while letting the electronic elements slip aside and become only an occasional feature of their music.

But don’t confuse this process for growing up – múm still keep their youth close, creating songs from an innocent child’s perspective, rarely delving into something which might hold a deeper meaning. However on the track “Blow Your Nose”, from new full length Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know, you can give them credit for trying to make something with a little heartfelt affection in it. A male voice sings of “the one you love who’s never coming back” while in the chorus offering sympathy with “And if you must cry with grief/ Blow your nose right on my sleeve”. For what it’s worth, múm have made probably made one of the more directly affecting songs in their career but because everything is coupled with childish images and solutions, they limit themselves to creating something only our past selves can enjoy and describe as merely “nice”.

Of course analyzing the lyrics of a band such as Múm is futile when you consider some of the cumbersome titles they have come up with. But as clunky as titles like “They Made Frogs Smoke ‘Til They Exploded” and “Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed” are, they have turned out to be the better tracks on their respective albums. And it appears another consistency can be seen with “The Smell Of Today Is Sweet Like Breastmilk In The Wind”. Despite its stretched and odd title, the cut up percussive backdrop with spots of guitar infuse well with the lush strings and rather unabashed vocals. Its simple strength is that it just sounds good: seemingly random at times but a great infusion of traditional and electronic, adding another contender to the list of their best “songs”.

Elsewhere, curious titles catch the attention best: “Hullaballabalú” builds slowly from airy synths and nonsensical chanting of the song title to steady drums and echoing horns without ever feeling drawn out or getting wrapped up in impractical and childish sounding ideas; “Kay-Ray-Ku-Ku-Ko-Kex” is an odd step outwards with its cymbals, piano, handclaps and its slightly scat-like title but with faintly haunting voices and irregular rhythms it proves to be one of the interesting moments on the album.

While the band do create a cosy and charming atmosphere in the music to the extent you can picture them all sitting around a piano, like some sort of Christmas card portrait (see closing track “Ladies of The New Century”), this doesn’t engage the listener for the space of 50 minutes the way it should. The band still sound they are struggling to define where they are going exactly but when you’re locked in a child’s imagination, you wouldn’t ever get too held up with such long term thoughts. I just hope that a little adolescence comes their way so they might gain a little perspective.