October 10, 2007

Record Review: Mum

Print More

Múm, how you gonna play me like this? You used to be one of my favorite bands. Yeah, I said it. Used to be. Past tense. I was originally drawn in by your otherworldly lullabies on Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today is Okay and Finally We Are No One. You were so soothing, so ambient, so like fellow Icelandic band Sigur Rós, yet so different. You maneuvered your songs through deft landscapes of mini-beats and created complex walls of percussion. You were charming. You were quaint. You were like the foreign exchange student everyone has a crush on, simply because you’re foreign. There wasn’t much to you not to like … Until three years ago.
Thanks for releasing Summer Make Good. It was so inspired! So not-boring! Psych! Frankly, it would have been better not to release it, and say you did. I realize I might be coming off harsh, but it’s tough love: you had such a good thing going, and then you … kinda blew it.
Maybe the curse of Summer Make Good can be described by the old adage: “Too much of a good thing is never a good thing.” Múm, I see what you were doing there. I get it. You tried to repeat past successes and then copy it onto Summer Make Good. I bet you figured (to use another cliché), “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But unfortunately, Múm, you broke it. You beat your own sound to death, and then beat it some more. Don’t get me wrong — there are a few really remarkable tracks on that album, like “Nightly Cares” and “The Island of the Children’s Children” — but the rest of the album sounds so forced and repetitive that it comes off as vapid filler.
Hence my excitement at the release of your new one, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, citing reasons of human inconsistency, but I guess the joke’s on me. Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, like Summer Make Good, has so much potential, but doesn’t fulfill. In attempting to reinvigorate your old sound, you come off sounding kitschy and insubstantial.
But before I get into more scathing commentary, I actually like what you’re doing, putting a greater emphasis on poppier, major-tonal melodies and mini-beats. I even like how there are more vocal tracks on this one than on any other album previous. Also, the first three tracks — and especially the first cut, “Blessed Brambles” — are golden, awe-inspiring even: it’s how Mum-lite should sound. So don’t get too down on yourselves … yet.
However, the album begins to go downhill with the fourth track, “These Eyes are Berries.” And what’s more, the consequent tracks, “Moon Pulls,” “Marmalade Fires” and “Rhuubarbidoo,” sound ripped-off from other electronic bands (i.e. The Books, or the aforementioned Icelandic comrades, Sigur Rós), so it’s easy to feel likewise ripped off.
Plus, the mood you’re trying to evoke on this album, creepy-cutesy, works well in small amounts (see: the childish humming peppering the background of the single “They Made Frogs Smoke ’til They Exploded”), but feels tired and overdone by the end of the album. Case in point? A whole song devoted to this whimsy-creepy aesthetic. “School Song Misfortune” sounds like the theme song to a now-defunct children’s show on public access television, and frankly just doesn’t work.
All of this commingles to a mostly-disappointing result: the awe inspired by the leading tracks simply can’t carry the album.
In short? Talk to the hand, Múm, because my ears are barely listening.