Moments of magic that point the way to a better-realised vision next.
Mike Diver 2009-08-24
Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, the fifth studio album from Iceland’s Múm, is one of those affairs where the gentle opening seconds and closing piano keys seem designed to create a never-ending loop: set your stereo to repeat and it could be days before you change the record.
And not just because Sing Along… is a beautiful collection of meticulously crafted arrangements that build upon their makers’ electronica foundations by layering organic instrumentation where once circuit board chatter dominated – it is – but also because it doesn’t do a great deal that its predecessor, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, didn’t, leaving the listener occasionally unsure of just what album they’re listening to.
While the band’s last LP, released in 2007 via FatCat, marked a noticeable move away from the electronics-heavy sound of their earliest work – 2002’s Finally We Are No One is among the greatest examples of ambitious, yet affecting, electronica laid down this side of the millennium – Sing Along… serves as a neat and tidy, if not exactly stirring, micro-evolution from what’s come before. While bold beats come to the fore on the title track and The Smell of Today is Sweet Like Breastmilk in the Wind (song title of the year, anyone?), much of this set is dominated by acoustic strums, delicate piano, choral vocals and the odd swell of orchestration.
Múm’s desire to progress as a group has always been apparent, and with their current clutch of songs (and those of Go Go Smear…) they’re distancing themselves from the band that many first fell in love with; but right now they’re yet to find that sweet spot between their fizz-pop digital percussion and the textural warmth they’re looking to deliver with strings and horns. Compared to, say, Denmark’s Efterklang, their arrangements aren’t quite as cohesive as might be expected from a band on their fifth LP; then again, advancement brings with it a degree of risk taking, and inconsistencies are to be expected.
Imperfect though it absolutely is, there are moments of magic on Sing Along… – the rising Arcade Fire-like squall of Húllabbalabbalúú, the sweeping strings of Illuminated – that point the way to a better-realised vision next time of asking. Until then, explore the back catalogue and work your way towards this release, rather than reversing from it.