Trippy, Quirky Icelandic Rock from Mum

by delarue

It’s tempting to say something like, “Oh, those crazy Icelanders, with their funny fractured English, one minute they’re all about weird sound effects, the next they’re doing all this somber gazing-at-the-ocean ambient stuff.” Obviously, that’s a stereotype and it’s true less often than not. But Icelandic band Mum’s new album Smilewound is a lot like that. The album title is as enigmatic as the music often is- is “wound” a noun or a verb? It could go either way, through the group’s icily trippy blend of quirky chamber pop and trip-hop.

Radiohead is the obvious influence, but where Radiohead uses electronics for the sake of menace, Mum sprinkle them throughout their songs with a grin. Some of these songs sound like Tom Tom Club with more modern toys; others evoke chamber pop bands like Edison Woods, but with more of a techy feel. “We’re all toothwheels in the mouth machine,” one of the women in the band announces in the first song, a trip-hop number anchored on the low end by bass synth, pizzicato strings dancing overhead. By contrast, Underwater Snow builds from simple, resonant, minimalist piano chords to a surreal blend of C&W balladry, trip-hop and chamber pop, with some droll, bubbly Baba O’Reilly synth thrown in toward the end.

When Girls Collide builds from a mechanical dancefloor thud to a more anthemic dreampop swirl; likewise, Slow Down juxtaposes lushness against minimalism, dreamy vocals against a steady trip-hop pulse. Candlestick starts out like a video game theme and then introduces a series of truly bizarre electronic percussion effects, like a 21st century Spike Jones. Then they bring hints of menace back with One Smile and its music-box theme. Then Eternity Is the Wait Between Breaths takes the music box theme and weird faux gamelan percussion in a more surrealistically comedic direction.

The Colorful Stabwound sounds like mid-80s Cure (the darker side of that band, anyway) taken ten years forward in time with coy female vocals. Sweet Impressions evokes Clare & the Reasons with its lively, whimsical tempo shifts and enigmatic lyrics: “screaming through a grassy meadow” ??? Likewise, Time to Scream and Shout isn’t exactly what the title suggests: it’s a lullaby (and possibly a reference to the disastrous Wall Street-engineered run on the nation’s currency back in 2008). The album ends with Whistle (with Kylie), more of a straight-up pop song than anything else here, with an attractively lush, baroque-tinged string outro. Sometimes funny, sometimes pensive and always psychedelic, the album gives your mind plenty of places to drift to.