múm: Early Birds

[28 June 2012]

By Nianyi Hong

Before Iceland’s múm decided to recreate itself as an indie-pop act, they were the leaders of glitchy soundscapes. Yet, despite the heavy use of electronic instrumentation, there was something very natural about their music. What fellow Icelanders Sigur Rós did in creating sweeping cinematic music with weeping strings and guitars, múm did with blips and beeps. For those of us longing for the return of the early days of múm, there’s the newly released rarities collection Early Birds. While Early Birds is clearly not as strong as debut Yesterday Was Dramatic—Today Is OK or as melodic as the band’s second album, Finally We Are No One, Early Birds offers a glimpse of the band’s beginnings with a new collection of early songs in a style that múm have since abandoned. That alone should convince early day múm fans to purchase the collection.

Early Birds mainly consists of outtakes and lost tracks from 1998-2000, before the recording of múm’s debut. Consequently, it’s unsurprising that it shares many similarities to Yesterday Was Dramatic. Early Birds is, however, even sparser than their debut, being mostly instrumental and touching on ambient. The collection also shows none of the pop sense that was developed on Finally We Are No One. The last few tracks on Early Birds take this approach to its limits; they are closer to ambient music than they are to múm’s typical glitchy (and mildly dance-able) electronic fiddling. The back end is especially weak in this regard; many of the tracks could be shortened without losing any impact.

Fortunately, the first few tracks on Early Birds range from good to tremendous. They don’t really offer the listener too much more on the beginnings of múm; in most regards, the fist few tracks could easily be slotted into Yesterday Was Dramatic. This is by no means an insult; more of múm’s debut is what many fans of the band had been looking for in recent years to no avail. While we can’t blame múm for trying to evolve out of their niche by focusing more on the pop aspects of their music, their best output came in that niche. Much like Sigur Rós, they should recognize that their “pop” album, while not awful, was not up to par with their earlier work.

Early Birds partially captures how múm started out and their evolution as a band. What is most striking now is the change from a relatively calm ambient band to a structured indie-pop outfit. Most listeners would agree that what múm created in the early 2000s was a magical brand of electronica, which, with its child-like vocals and gentle blips, felt eerily like a childhood home. The new múm, on the other hand, as turned into another dime-a-dozen indie-pop band. While we might never again hear múm create the music that they did on their debut, thankfully Early Birds has produced some more material from that time.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/159632-mum-early-birds/