What is it, exactly, about Iceland that inspires such awe-inspiring music? Is it the discordant presence of scenic vistas and lush greenery in a land whose name suggests a slippery, cold, pale blue tint? Is it a language whose everyday words still sound poetic to outside ears? Or is it, perhaps, the overwhelming isolation from the rest of the world, an isolation that keeps the evil of the 'popular' from traversing boundaries that are otherwise merely political?
Múm will, perhaps unfortunately, always be compared to compatriots Björk and Sigur Rós, not least thanks to the coincidence of geography. Like those acts, Múm makes music for worlds other than the one most of us are familiar with. All three have a knack for combining the organic with the electronic, the abstract with the accessible. While Björk and Sigur Rós seem to be growing more oblique (read: nuts) to the outside world as time goes on, Múm is reining in their more experimental tendencies, focusing instead on a somewhat prettier and more atmospheric end product. Their most recent full-length, Summer Make Good, caused much consternation among the band's faithful: the sounds on that album are largely organic, sacrificing the beats and two-voiced vocal harmonies for the sake of something a little more ethereal. In fact, Summer Make Good is just as odd and unique as either of Múm's previous outings -- it's just a bit more subtle about it.
The Dusk Log EP is a companion piece to that album. It serves as something of a single for Summer Make Good's pseudo-title track, "Will the Summer Make Good for All of Our Sins?", while dodging the "CD single" formula by placing that song halfway through the EP. Instead, they lead off with "Kostrzyn". Listening to "Kostrzyn" is something like watching two ants dancing, punctuated by the occasional decision of hundreds of surrounding ants to break into full-on Riverdance, complete with flashy costumes and added pyrotechnics. Skittery IDM-style beats phase in and out of the song, and a cute little keyboard melody turns into a great big Celtic-inspired violin tune. It sets the bar high for the whole EP, even as it lacks the practically trademarked little-girl vocals of Kristín Valtýsdóttir.
The rest of Dusk Log eschews the theatrics of "Kostrzyn", opting instead for more of the subtle, slightly claustrophobic feel that marked much of Summer Make Good. "This Nothing in the Faraway" is a lovely little tune. Cascading, melodic synths and unintelligible but pretty vocals create most of the interesting textures. "Will the Summer Make Good for All of Our Sins" is just as attractive, with a slightly more comprehensible lyric, and melodies that beg for the grand movie-musical treatment, even if they never quite escape from quiet and beatless ambience. Finally, the strongest of the three 'quiet' tracks, "Boots of Fog", closes the disc with the tuned sounds of drops falling off an icicle and distant wind chimes. Those quiet, breathy vocals make one more brief appearance, the sounds get a little more rhythmic, and then they fall off as a pleasant little banjo motif soothes us into the ether. This isn't music to listen to: it's music to absorb.
Absorption, I suppose, would be the point of this entire EP if it weren't for "Kostrzyn", whose whirlwind-like presence throws off the mood and flow of the disc. Even as arguably the strongest track, its inclusion turns Dusk Log from an atmospheric work of art -- perfect for lying in the snow and looking up at the stars -- into an odds 'n' ends piece for the Múm aficionado. Dusk Log is a solid release with no glaring weaknesses, but the Múm novice would do best to try one of the albums first.