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Album Review: múm – Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know

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Since their 2000 debut Yesterday Was Dramatic…Today Is OK, Icelandic avant-popsters múm have been crafting exquisite songs from all manner of sounds: gently-strummed guitars, various found sounds and ice crystal vocals. The band seems to inhabit a fairytale-like world with its own language, inviting fans to visit on each new release. On 2002’s Finally We Are No One, the band combined the rhythms of electronic music with the language and melodies of folk music to produce a classic. Their latest, Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, ups the folk quotient, bringing acoustic guitars and vocal harmony to the forefront, while expanding the band’s sound to include a DIY-aesthetic.

Delicate guitar picking opens “If I Were A Fish”, which is also accented by gentle vocal harmony. In the same vein, “Sing Along” begins with a childlike lullaby of a vocal before being invaded by a martial drumbeat and the lyrics “We want to beat you with a spoon.” With lyrics like these, and titles like “The Smell of Today is Sweet Like Breastmilk in the Wind”, the mood on Sing Along is often quirky and playful. And the album seems to be preoccupied with themes of childbirth and innocence. Witness the childlike vocals on songs like “Show Me” and “Blow Your Nose”. Likewise, some of this album’s sounds resemble children banging away on their toys. On “Húllabbalabbalúú”, the chorus sounds vaguely like a baby’s gurgle. And on “Kay-ray-kú-kú-ko-kex”, dark piano chords and handclaps provide the backdrop for the chanted chorus.

Yet the band’s earnestness rarely grows tiresome. Perhaps that’s because they’re too busy churning out both charming but simultaneously challenging tunes. Among the standouts are “Blow Your Nose”, a poignant and gentle love song anchored by a tinkling xylophone and a solitary violin. “And if you must cry with grief, blow your nose right on my sleeve.” Now that’s love. “Show Me” features a shimmering melody, as a glitchy drum machine gives way to ghostly vocals and such winsome lyrics as “Show me the way you hypnotize the rain.”

On “Prophecies and Reversed Memories”, furious drums anchor the song as plaintive vocal harmonies sail over insistent piano plucking. The band switches gears on the poignant “A River Don’t Stop to Breathe”. An eerie xylophone starts the song before strings and whirling percussion come in. “A river don’t stop to breathe/the water don’t stop to dream no dream,” sings vocalist Sigurlaug Gisladottir. Is it a paean to the environment or an allusion to giving birth? It doesn’t much matter because the majestic sway of the song overtakes you before you can give its meaning too much thought.

“The Last Shapes of Never” begins the trio of songs that close Sing Along. It opens with hypnotic guitar picking and mournful harmonica, and then moves into almost Gregorian chant-like vocals. Similarly, “Illuminated” starts with eerie chanting before giving way to traditional vocals accompanied by a drum machine. The album ends with perhaps its most musically straightforward song “Ladies of the New Century”, which features an acoustic piano and more vocal harmony.

With Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, múm continue honing its trademark folk-tronica. Fans and newbies alike won’t be disappointed.

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Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know Album Review: múm – Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know

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