Múm, ‘Early Birds’ – Album Review
A collection of rarities from Múm’s formative years, ‘Early Birds’ shows us where all their gorgeous experimental weirdness came about in the first place.
The Icelandic band carries currency in whimsy and wonder, the sonic equivalent of a Michel Gondry film or a Joan Miro painting, a constant collage of sounds analog and digital, lonesome and joyful. These ‘Early Birds’ are souvenirs from when Múm as we know them were a mere twinkle in founding members Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson, who were roaming around basement studios across Europe with recording happening from France to Iceland. Only in their teens, encountering the experimental techno of Aphex Twin, did they set down their guitars and set out in pursuit of the avant garde, the results of which crystallized in their staggering debut album ‘Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Was OK.’
The rarities we have here anticipate the kaleidoscopic wind chimes of their later work, carrying the listener through an experience subtle and emotional.
To be totally transparent, reviewing anything of Múm’s is difficult, let alone this chest of drawers unintended to be listened to as a cohesive whole. Perhaps it is the sweetness of the sounds, those creamy synths and wide-eyed xylophones of ‘lalalala blái hnötturinn,’ for instance, that make the listener feel so much of childhood. In those beeps and boops is something nostalgic for babies of the '80s, a sense of awe sprung from when computers were still magic. Indeed, they are enchanting: At their best, Múm produce a sense of familiar but rarely experienced majesty, like seeing the sober lights of dawn at the end of a wild night. The accordions of ten-minute closer ‘Enginn vildi hlusta á fiðlunginn, því strengir hans vóru slitnir’ swell like a cliff-clinging sea, all high tide and precipitous.
Recorded between 1998 and 2000, the influences of the then-young musicians are at times readily apparent. The clatter and scatter of ‘Volkspark Friedrichshain’ sounds like Aphex Twin when Raymond David James felt like being soothing -- and they themselves have become influential. From the hindsight of 2012, Múm was a part of what you’d now call laptop folk or indietronica, the same zeitgeist that brought forth the Album Leaf, Bibio, and Washed Out.
Like the early rising the title implies, ‘Early Birds’ feels like a healthy habit. Warming of heart and taking of breath, listening to the record is like finally seeing the baby pictures of someone you’ve long adored, nourishing the reasons you loved them in the first place.