múm, Smilewound

Sharon O'Connell

By Sharon O'Connell

on 09.06.13 in Reviews

That childlike title packs a slightly sinister punch, suggesting a very different side to the “killer smile” compliment. But unsettlement has never been the business of Icelandic experimental troupe múm, whose warm, pastoral electronic pop has sustained them through five albums to date, shifting its emphasis variously on beats, (mostly) acoustic multi-instrumentalism, vocals and glitchy flourishes while remaining distinctively múm-like.

Embracing fractured, psychedelic pop

Whimsy, sweetness and a self-aware naivety have long characterized their work, but Smilewound is certainly not without edge. It sees múm embracing the fractured, psychedelic pop of Animal Collective and Panda Bear — ironic, perhaps, given that Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir quit the band to work with Avey Tare — but reflecting its Day-Glo vibrancy, rather than opting for fluoro saturation, and never losing sight of melody.

Heavily rhythmic opener “Toothwheels” sets out their stall with a muffled, kick-drum throb and sustained bass woomph, which are countered with rave-y synths and a lush but muscular vocal. The polyrhythmic rush of “When Girls Collide” and dinky “Candlestick” also conjure the multifarious thrills of a dark club, but the mournfully delicate piece of processed chamber pop that is “Eternity is the Wait Between Breaths” suddenly shifts the album down several gears.

Most unlikely among its successes is “The Colorful Stabwound,” an oddball, acoustic piano-house track — with bongos — that features the hushed confession, “I’ve done some things you won’t believe,” while Kylie Minogue guests on deliciously frosted, closing disco ballad, “Whistle.” Múm’s exit from the underground may be a while off yet, but early indications are there.