mum - Smilewound

Released September 6, 2013

By Srivas Beriault

Smilewound is a layer cake. Contrast and unity is a key theme, but subtly so, all laid within sugary linings. Alternately slow and fast, each track peels into the next. Bite in anywhere and you will catch flavors of the whole. Unity never hurts, even so with albums. Stretching from meaty synth-bass to cello wail and piano flourish. With airy Elvin vocals threaded through the core, this album marks múm’s natural sway back to electronic roots and a step forward into pop realms.

Toothwheel sounds the way a decent first date feels—uptempo, hopeful, seductive. It clashes hip-grinding bass with a peripheral tickle tease of piano. Underwater Snow slows to a crawl, emphasizing vocals backed up by flutters on the ivory as the electric bleeps and distortion retreat to the background. This trade off between the auditory powers that be is noticeable throughout. When Girls Collide bursts back with lavish electronics that finally fuse smoothly with strong vocals and hummable lyrics. Slow Down takes a namesake dip to showcase the outright sappiest song in the album. Candlestick and One Smile disperse this rosy mist: the former hinged on a mellow Nintendo-style sound structure, and the latter sputtering headlong in dauntless musical and lyrical flair. Much that is undetectable occurs in the galactic Eternity Is The Wait Between Breaths. Its reward lies in its progression; if you seek coherence from such a song, it will disappoint. The Colorful Stabwound treads morning alarm clock melancholia with feverish percussion. Sweet Impressions lends chords and words of comfort and encouragement to the weary ear and soul whereas Time to Scream and Shout is a dizzying, sleep-inducing collage of machined sound. The fuzz sounds a bit like hummingbird wings. To top off is the pop sugar icing bonus track Whistle, a collaboration with Australian pop diva Kylie. Any potentially moony mainstream gusto is toned down enough to fit múm's standards and hopefully turns more ears in their direction.

Pick songs like these for their names, pick passersby for their smiles, and wake up tomorrow knowing what wounds smiles can hide. Call it an opportunity to drift a little further into right brain territory. This album ferries us through the veil, digging up contrasts and flavors we might not regularly register or otherwise forget.

Working in the towering shadows of Bjork and Sigur Ros, múm has been modestly plying its trade since the late nineties, which means they have had at least a say in what electronic music is today, pushing boundaries with their experimentations of style and instruments. All the while, the group has had its feet firmly planted at home, in grassroots. While Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Póreyjarson Smárason form the core, múm strives to be a collective, drawing on a network of vocalists and musicians across Iceland. Some reviewers praise múm for their meticulously crafted sound, others decry them for a seeming incoherence or obscurity. Whichever side of the line you fall on, these soundsmiths are sure to blur it for you, either now with this album or at some point in the future. These are after all gentle, talented renegades who regularly record in a remote lighthouse for the inspiration it offers. Beat that.