múm Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy

[FatCat; 2007]

Styles: lo-fi eclecticism, scant IDM electronica,
Others: Sigur Ros, Colleen, Belle and Sebastian, Dntel

Never one to get trapped in a trench sound-wise, müm have always been a reliably superb, unclassifiable musical entity rather than a "band." Although you know damned well when you are listening to müm, there has never been anything remotely run-of-the-mill or humdrum about them. Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy is the latest effort from the celestial Icelandic songsmiths, whose work over the past decade has rightfully elevated them from intriguing cult players to much-hyped and widely-loved sound sculptors of the highest order. But a lot has changed since Summer Make Good in 2004: a bit to do with their lineup, more to do with a development in musical direction. While there has not been much about müm that could have been called IDM or ambient for years now, there was always an identifiable, layered texture to the gang's sound. It is always a brave decision to abandon a musical approach that risked becoming stale, but while some cheerleaders are trumpeting müm's mutation into spry experimenters, they might notice the loss of an important spirit along the way as well.

Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy starts with "Blessed Brambles," stating the group's new direction with an emphatic wallop. The song, along with standout track "They Made Frogs Smoke 'Til They Exploded," contains whirling dervishes of tracks that feature co-ed vocals and odd lyrics, tinker-toy keyboards and piano, percussive claps and hits, a heap of instruments, and, in the case of the latter tune, nonsensical kiddie blabber that makes it sound like a lost Looper song (when they were new and good and naïve). And then there is the cute "Rhuubarbidoo," a track that should be picked up by a TV producer to soundtrack animated shorts on kiddie stations. With its music-box backdrop, playful trumpet, and chiming bells, it begs to be expanded upon, but sadly remains a short interlude. Alas, apart from very few arresting moments, there seems to be a determined attempt on Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy to erase most of müm's past musical statements and replace them with slightly vanilla and vapid pieces. The straight-up piano ballad "Moon Pulls" and "Marmalade Fires," with its sad horns and strings, are unlike anything this troupe has written before, but not unlike anything you have heard before by others. Parts are beautiful, sure, but they lack the signature simmering menace and natural touch we have grown to love from müm. Without these elements, the whole comes off bland and incomplete.

Perhaps the personnel changes over the past few years have hurt müm. Now, with both Valtýsdóttir sisters absent, müm are essentially the duo of Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Ţóreyjarson Smárason plus additional helping hands. Funnily enough, this album sounds more band-like than previous efforts in song structure, but not quite in sync when played by a collective. müm's dichotomous calling card of childlike simplicity mixed with obtuse words is still present on tracks like "These Eyes Are Berries," "School Song Misfortune," and (without lyrics) on the segue "Rhuubarbidoo," but the same spontaneous feelings of discovery and excitement of past müm records are gone. Tracks like "A Little Bit, Sometimes," "Dancing Behind My Eyelids," and "I Was Her Horse" are frustrating, standard fare. I can find standard fare anywhere. Unlike all previous müm releases, much of Go Go sounds cobbled together rather than stories imaginatively linked together.

At this point, I would normally claim that this album is a minor dip in form for müm, who, even when playing at half-strength, hold more interesting cards than most bands. That may be true, but it is not good enough this time. Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy is a bit too disappointing for me to start making excuses and justifications. There is some mildly fascinating stuff on this album, but nothing that raises the bar on what müm have done before. On this album, the band has defiantly dumped any past familiar attributes, but in so doing, they have unfortunately jumped into a very overcrowded pool of normalcy. Whereas the band used to effortlessly exude class with deeply complex and densely layered songs, many on this record are rice paper thin. Despite occasional flourishes, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy is an average set by a band who should be far beyond releasing anything less than stellar.

1. Blessed Brambles
2. A Little Bit, Sometimes
3. They Made Frogs Smoke 'Til They Exploded
4. These Eyes Are Berries
5. Moon Pulls
6. Marmalade Fires
7. Rhuubarbidoo
8. Dancing Behind My Eyelids
9. School Song Misfortune
10. I Was Her Horse
11. Guilty Rocks
12. Winter (What We Never Were After All)

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