múm, Early Birds

Rob Young

By Rob Young

on 06.13.12 in Reviews

Early Birds charts the fledgling progress of one of Iceland’s most consistently intriguing groups, from their first tentative wobbles to the moment they began to spread their wings. Covering the period from 1998-2000, this compilation of unreleased demos, lost tapes and vinyl rarities pre-dates the release of múm’s 2001 debut album Yesterday Was Dramatic — Tomorrow Is OK. Originally a duo, Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyarson Smárason were drifting aroundEurope making tracks out of field recordings and cheap electronics. They met fellow Icelandic twin sisters Gyða and Kristín Anna Valtysdóttir and múm gelled into a workable unit.

A modestly-scaled sound that never grows too big for its boots

Early Birds divides into two clearly demarcated halves. The earliest tracks are in thrall to the digital music of the time, full of bleeps and glitches, naïve melodies and an overall mood of folky innocence. “Gingúrt” parps along with squelching electronics and a jaunty accordion. “Glerbrot,” previously believed lost, is a wonderful salvaged work, its slow, mechanical drum ‘n’ bass rhythm offset by a contemplative electric piano. “Hvernig Á Að Særa Vini Sína” — the soundtrack to a film called The Exploding Girl — features a boy-girl call and response that sounds like they’re singing through a damp dishcloth.

Gears shift after the lo-fi video game soundtracks “Bak Þitt Er Sem Rennibraut” and “Insert Coin.” It’s as if the band has learned how to stop fidgeting, paused for a minute and started breathing. “0,000Orð” slows things down with xylophone, mournful melodica and delightful cello. “múm Spilar La La La” spins barking dogs, train-station voices and mournful melodies like sugar around acoustic guitar. And the closing “Enginn Vildi Hlusta Á Fiðlunginn, Því Strengir Hans Vóru Slitnir — Getiði Ekki Verið Góð Við Mömmu Okkar?” is 10 minutes of park noises and muttered conversations interrupted by accordion, Nordic fiddle and spectral drones. In this second half, múm can be heard taking control of the electronic/acoustic fusion has become their trademark: a modestly-scaled sound that never grows too big for its boots.