The constantly rotating membership of múm has made it difficult for fans to anticipate what a múm record should sound like. On 2009’s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, it became apparent that the band’s current interest lay more in weirdo pop music than the abstract sound experiments of their early albums.
Smilewound, their sixth studio album, reinforces that more traditional pop structures surely here to stay, but you still couldn’t call them a pop band. Not even featuring Kylie Minogue on a song can turn them into a pop band (see last year’s 'Whistle' as evidence; it’s the bonus track on Smilewound). The glitchy rhythm of 'Candlestick', for example, balances out a warm, smooth chorus about wanting to bash someone over the head.
Even if more conventional song elements like choruses and clearly audible vocals have found their way into múm’s work, they are still far from predictable. For starters, who would have anticipated the return of founding member Gyða, last seen on their debut, Yesterday Was Dramatic — Today Is OK? Her vocals (which closely resemble those of her twin sister, former lead vocalist Kristin Anna/Kria Brekkan) feature on several songs, whereas male vocals are noticeably absent on the whole. But the return of a founding member hasn’t signaled the return of what the band was ten years ago.
There are shades their more atmospheric, freeform songs. Instrumental 'Eternity Is The Wait Between Breaths' could easily fit into their back catalogue, while the presence of warped sounding strings across the album is an excellent example of the textures the band has always been capable of creating. And the breathy, brief vocals of 'One Smile' is a beautiful example of using a voice as an instrument.
múm have always been a challenging listen, and on the heels of last year’s compilation, Early Birds it seems the challenge might be accepting something more structured. Smilewound requires something of an adjustment of expectations. But don’t get too comfortable; they’ll undoubtedly throw us for a loop with their next album.
7Amanda Farah's Score