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 mÃºm’s 2001 debut album Yesterday Was Dramatic — Tomorrow Is OK. Originally a duo, Gunnar Ã–rn Tynes and Ã–rvar ÃžÃ³reyarson SmÃ¡rason were drifting aroundEurope making tracks out of field recordings and cheap electronics. They met fellow Icelandic twin sisters GyÃ°a and KristÃn Anna ValtysdÃ³ttir and mÃºm gelled into a workable unit.
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, naÃ¯ve melodies and an overall mood of folky innocence. “GingÃºrt” 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 Ã AÃ° SÃ¦ra Vini SÃna” — 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 Ãžitt 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. “0,000OrÃ°” slows things down with xylophone, mournful melodica and delightful cello. “mÃºm Spilar La La La” spins barking dogs, train-station voices and mournful melodies like sugar around acoustic guitar. And the closing “Enginn Vildi Hlusta Ã FiÃ°lunginn, ÃžvÃ Strengir Hans VÃ³ru Slitnir — GetiÃ°i Ekki VeriÃ° GÃ³Ã° ViÃ° MÃ¶mmu Okkar?” is 10 minutes of park noises and muttered conversations interrupted by accordion, Nordic fiddle and spectral drones. In this second half, mÃºm 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.