The music of Icelandic four-piece Mum presents an interesting paradox—how to describe music that was created mostly electronically, but nonetheless, sounds so damned organic? The adjectives that I would use to describe Mum are perilously close to the ones I would use to describe, say, a refreshing mountain stream: burbling, playful, calming, beautiful.
After a debut, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK, that sent many critics into paroxysms of delight, Mum are poised to win over legions of new fans with this, their second proper full-length (not counting 2001’s Please Smile My Noise Bleed, which was a remix LP), and first that has received proper stateside release and distribution. While the hardcore IDM-heads that drooled all over themselves in praise of the imaginative and innovative sounds that the group presented on their debut might be disappointed by Finally We Are No One‘s more straightforward song structures, it’s doubtful that anyone else will be. While I’ll grant that their debut might have been a slightly more interesting record, I have no doubt that I’ll be listening to this one a lot more often.
I should probably own up to something up front here: I’m not a big fan of electronic music. While some of my friends flip their wigs over Autechre and Oval, the stuff, for the most part, bores me to tears. While I won’t go so far as to describe myself as a “pop purist”, I will admit that I’m pretty much lost in a piece of music without some kind of melody, rhythm and words to latch onto. Given these predelictions, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Mum’s debut—while it’s not something I would sit down and listen to carefully all the way through, I did find it much more musical and enjoyable than pretty much any other glitchy electronica I’d ever heard, with the possible exception of some Mouse on Mars stuff. So, when I heard that the new Mum record was meant to be more “song oriented”, with a greater emphasis on vocals, I thought “hey, this could be really good”.
And, well, it is. For the most part. Predictably, the songs I gravitate towards most are the songs that feature the childlike vocals of one or both of the Valtysdottir twins (whom you might know as the cover models for Belle & Sebastian’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant), such as the luminous “Green Grass of Tunnel”. However, some of the purely instrumental tunes have extremely engaging, hooky melodies as well, such as “Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed”.
Mainly the quartet makes the kind of music that you might expect fairies to make. The chirpy, dreamlike “We Have a Map of the Plane” and the swooning, almost Cocteau Twins-ish “Now There’s That Fear Again” highlight this tendency quite nicely. This tendency can make the record slightly disorienting, but only in the best sense—think of it as the aural equivalent to laughing gas.
While the record sustains interest throughout its first half, it does begin to lag towards the end, with a few songs coming and going in a haze of pleasant blips and gurgles without really making much of an impression. Likewise, the 11-minute closer, “The Land Between Solar Systems” starts out like many other tracks on the record, as likeable as can be, but simply outstays its welcome.
However, it’s safe to say that you won’t hear anything else this year that sounds quite like Finally We Are No One. Mum’s blend of glitchy beats, found sounds, childlike vocals, and impressive melodic sense is, to me, pretty damn unique, and is certainly worth checking out. While some of the songs have the tendency to lapse into rather uninteresting ambient drones (such as “K/Half Noise”, which goes on for three or four minutes too long), these parts are never less than pleasant, and the worst you can say of them is that they don’t really grab one’s attention. However, Finally We Are No One boasts more than its fair share of very attention-grabbing moments, which makes it very easy to forgive them these occasional lapses.
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