Múm - Early Birds
I've stated twice previously that Icelandic music is of a higher breed. Without fully understanding the mechanics behind this, I'd wager the answer lies somewhere in the mindset of the native people. I don't know them personally, but observing from afar it seems like quite an epic place to live, compared to say, Seattle. For one, the scenery, landscape, and stunning vistas take away the breath. It must also be remembered that it is highly rated as an extremely liveable country.
I guess Múm inhabit a genre of their own devising, in a similar fashion to fellow country-men Sigur Rós. Whilst not trail-blazers of the same intensity as their more illustrious companions, this is a band who crafted the quite sublime Yesterday Was Dramatic - Today Is Ok, a mind-bending melt of IDM, Electronic, and a dash of home-brand live instrumentation. It was Autechre for the pop charts. The way they built sound, using nuance as well as blatant direction changes and additions, created such a rich harmony of noises it was even reminiscient of the technical brilliance of acts such as Boards Of Canada, in a charmingly Fisher Paykel way. Over the course of their career their textural aspirations have remained intact. There have been mistakes, the vocal performances on Summer Make Good reduced a series of excellent songs to unlistenable at times, but overall this is a unique band with a strong resumé.
Early Birds is an odd concept. Considering their last release of original material was 2009, it feels slightly off-putting that this is not bespoke 2012 music. It was a compilation album, comprised of early Múm songs including some demos. I have to admit, at first light I thought this was purely new material. It feels like a stylistic switch to a more varied sound, rather than hammering home a particular emotion in a particular way songs veer off in all sorts of directions. At times 2 or 3 simplistic electronic riffs are piled on top of each other to form the basis of songs, see Bak Þitt Er Sem Rennibraut and its megamix cousin Bak Þitt Er Sem Rennibraut (Bústadavegur Er Fáviti Megamix Eftir Músíkvat), as well as Náttúrúbúrú. On Hvernig Á Að Særa Vini Sína (Previously Unreleased), live instrumentation, a clear distinguishing feature of Múm's earlier music, is heavily relied on to create almost straight-laced indie music. It starts off with an almost beginner level bass line that is slowly built around using guitar and percussion. Rather than using electronics as the base, they are used as the slight additions to add weight to the sound. The vocal performance doesn't steal focus or lumber, as it has on some previous tracks, it instead feels balanced and positive.
The drums. We must talk about the lovely drums! Classic Múm and classic IDM. The urgency and double-edged nature of the time keepers on the first half of the album are brilliant. They take over the duty of the at times overwhelming electronics to add direction and substance to each song, and a unique personality. On Póst Póstmaður, a sense of urgency and forward movement is contrasted with a slower, more restrained electronic riff. Gingúrt burns slowly thanks to a backing off of pace, allowing the song more room to breath, which it does brilliantly with a simulated (or maybe otherwise) horn-type section to close the final minute. Glerbrot (Previously Lost) is no longer lost, bleeping away frenetically despite a lovely slow organ-synth that bleeds through and takes over at the end, ending the song with a sense of calm and reassurance. We experience this drum orgy twice more, on the entire length of Insert Coin (Bjarne Riis Arcade Game Mjiks Eftir Múm ) and then a halting and haunting display on Volkspark Friedrichshain. Unfortunately it doesn't prevail as a theme for the entire record.
We come to the third, or fourth, distinct sounding section on the record. It's beginning to get exhausting! The ambient section. Tracks 8 through to 15 use the traditional Múm method of simplistic density through nothing more than electronic noise and elements. Múm Spilar La La La is the standout here, a seriously uncomplicated guitar riff with 3 other elements added to it, and it provides a lovely window to look out of, whilst the final half of the record deals in semi-darkness this song breathes a bit of light in to the surroundings. 0,000Orð provides a back up for this with a nicely tuned horn effect at the end of its minimal beginnings. Lalalala Blái Hnötturinn is just pure ambient music, a skill Múm seem to have had mastered at a very young age, you can feel this sort of arrangement becoming the building blocks for future success, especially on their debut album.
5/10. It isn't an album, so I cannot accuse it of inconsistency. But there is such a random assortment of major sounds here, it doesn't feel so much as a compilation as a mixtape. The songs don't appear to compliment each other, nor do they appear to be arranged in the track list with any real thought or reason. It doesn't make them any less likeable on an individual basis, it does however make for a bumpy listen at times. This isn't really a record you'd sit and listen through start to finish. The final half is much stronger, it feels better put together and less clumsy. The first half is too slap dash, as if they had the bare bones of a few songs and decided to string that into 6 tracks using huge, dumb sounding electronics. But overall there are positives to take from this listen.
Best Tracks: Múm Spilar La La La, Volkspark Friedrichshain, Insert Coin (Bjarne Riis Arcade Game Mjiks Eftir Múm )