After Kristín Anna Valtï¿½sdóttir left múm last year, the experimental Icelandic band seemed to end up in the also-ran pile. Their field-day lullabies had lost the downy voice that made them so distinctive, and the public seemed more excited about what Valtï¿½sdóttir's new project might sound like than about the band she'd left behind. They were, after all, three years away from Summer Make Good, which itself had the creaks and wood-block clappings of a dying ship sinking into its last berth. Then Valtï¿½sdóttir and her hubby — resident Animal Collective folk-freak Avey Tare — issued the abortive backwards love paean Pullhair Rubeye — a Narcissian effort at best. Now thankfully, comes múm's fourth album,Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy — a woodsy set that continues the group's move away from the Day-Glo electronics of 2002's Finally We Are No One, deepening and expanding Summer's organic groove.
For those worried about just how múm might sound without Valtï¿½sdóttir, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy answers with a stripped-back tone and a new concentration on short-form alternapop tracks. The singing is now done by committee, in drooping choirs and duets where it's often hard to pick out just who's responsible. Lead single, “They Made Frogs Smoke ‘Til They Exploded,” is a popping, percussive getaway of a song. Lacking much of their former broad layering and atmospheric swoon, it focuses instead on a tight assembly of twitching electronics, harmonica, and harmonizing. Likewise, “Moon Pulls” is as hushed and solemn as múm's ever been — a piano echoing in empty space — and “Marmalade Fires” shows an affinity for the anthems of Broken Social Scene, with a bottom-fed beat and slow acoustic sway that patiently coalesces into chorus.
Despite this newly direct songwriting, there are still plenty of moments on Go Go Smear that offer sheer sound-experience. Original duo Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar ï¿½óreyjarson Smárason were joined in the studio by five of their friends, several of whom have prior experience with film scores. The bells, accordion and speckles of voice on “School Song Misfortune,” revel in ethereal mood without ever shaping into song, while “I Was Her Horse” starts with a harmonica straight out of Once Upon a Time in the West before a mournful trumpet and accordion join in the funeral march. At the record's end comes “Winter (What We Never Were After All),” a fitting closer that could have been in any of Dario Argento's best giallos. With a gorgeous choir drifting over detuned piano and loops of soft noise, it's an intoxicating finale, a summation of an album that finds múm both restricting their music while creating those lofty moodpieces we've come to expect.