When one thinks of the ever eclectic Icelandic music scene three artists come to mind: Bjork and her original band The Sugarcubes and of course, the band that makes grown men weep because of their eccentric beauty, Sigur Rós. Yet one of the most underrated bands from Iceland that you may have heard, though not necessarily by name, is Múm. Honestly, before a few years ago I didn’t know who the hell Múm were either. But this all changed when I saw the movie Wicker Park. There’s a particular scene in the movie when Matthew, Josh Hartnett’s character, follows Lisa, the girl of his dreams, to her dance recital. During this recital, we see her dancing to the elegant splendor of “We Have a Map of the Piano” by Múm. Hartnett watches Lisa as Kristín Anna Valtysdottir sings, “please don’t float so far.” The vocal echoes the yearning inside of Matthew and how he feels from a distance; it’s the perfect blend of music and film. It was as if “We Have a Map of the Piano” was written for that scene. It wasn’t but watching Lisa dance in front of you, you’d think otherwise.
Múm is more than a soundtrack band, a-la The Fray, however, having recorded a plethora of albums, including 2002’s magnificent Finally We are No One. For those of you familiar with Múm’s trademark minimalist electronic sound, you will notice a change from 2004’s Summer Makes Good. Now with Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, there’s a shift to a greater use of live instrumentals and less of a focus on electronics. No worries, the trademark tenderness of Múm is still there, they just have expanded their pallet with new shades to color their soundscapes with more infinite beauty.
I love the addition of horns in the opening number over the toy piano keys in “Blessed Brambles.” The little organic sounds that Múm is infamous for are still prominent throughout that keeps the trademark vibe, but now with the live instruments we get a little bit of powerful substance over their stylistic overtones as you will hear throughout Poison Ivy. It’s fantastic how they start off a song with one sound like the accordion on track two, ” A Little Bit Sometimes,” and grow from there, but bit by bit as they slowly add drums, keyboards and vocals in layers, the song is like a painting coming to life. Múm didn’t give up the electronics altogether, they just aren’t as reliant on the sequences as they were in the past. Listen to “They Made Frogs Smoke ‘Til They Exploded” and your worries will be at ease. The song starts off with some childlike sampling and electronic resonance and builds with exploding percussion that will grab you and have you dancing in an instant.
If something seems missing, well, it is—founding member Kristín Valtysdóttir is no longer with the band on this album. She was one of my favorite members of the band, but not to fret, Múm is a collective who’s not defined by one member. Posion Ivy is my favorite album of Múm’s, as they have evolved into a proper band who doesn’t need electronics to create their unique sounds, and sound livelier than ever. Just listen to my favorite track, the jazzy flavored “I Was Her Horse.” They add a new level of humanistic intimacy that lifts their trademark sound into deeper substance to be felt by all who enter inside their world of music and wonder.
That’s what I adore about Múm; to me, they are the soundtrack to our hopes, dreams and imagination. What sets them apart from fellow country mates Sigur Rós is that Múm actually sing in English, rather than the fictional “Hopelandic.” You can understand what they are saying and their amazing rhythms take you to a place beyond consciousness. Múm’s Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy lifts the listener up, inside and all around, with trippy rhythms worth revisiting over and over again.