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Ghost World

 

Múm: Finally We Are No One

Fat Cat, 2002

Rating: 4.4

 

 

Posted: August 8, 2002

By Laurence Station

Icelandic 4-piece Múm (Gunnar Orn Tynes, Orvar Poreyjarson Smarason, and twin sisters Kristin Anna and Gyda Valtysdottir) hail from the same fertile creative soil that brought the world Björk and Sigur Rós. While there are certain stylistic similarities between the artists (intricate melodies; sonorous soundscapes; idiosyncratic vocals), Múm is as different from the singular, private world of Björk as Björk is from the sonically icy creations that define Sigur Rós. The members of Múm are pop experimentalists, in the sense that the quartet creates evocative electronica pieces more akin to Scotland's Boards of Canada than the work of the group's fellow Icelanders.

Finally We Are No One, the follow-up to 2000's import-only Yesterday Was Dramatic - Today Is OK, finds Múm refining its spiders-skittering-across-fragile-crystal sound. Whereas Yesterday Was Dramatic explored a variety of Autechre-inspired clicks and glitches, melded with beautiful harmonies courtesy of the Valtysdottir sisters, Finally We Are No One offers a more cohesive set of songs, forming a seamless, hypnotic and almost undulating tidal wash of noise. Mixing an array of instruments (accordions, basses, cellos, glockenspiels, guitars, melodicas, synthesizers) with carefully programmed and sequenced electronic blips, bleats and washes, Múm embarks on a journey that moves from ethereal to earthbound and back again with near effortless grace.

Thematically, Finally is closer in relation to Boards of Canada's musings, particularly the duo's latest release, Geogaddi, offering a childlike view on a larger, more menacing world beyond the safe confines of the schoolyard grounds. Where Geogaddi is sinister, however, Finally revels in the wonders of discovery, exploring the seemingly contradictory relationship between spiritual transcendence and mechanical know-how and efficiency. "Sleep/Swim" coaxes the listener deeper into the disc with delicate chimes ushering one toward dreamland. "Green Grass Of Tunnel" conjures secret doors and hidden passageways, evoking images of solids becoming liquid, treating insubstantiality as a cherished reward.

"We Have A Map Of The Plane" alters the placid tempo, becoming more pensive and muted in tone. This shift leads into one of the album's highlights, "Don't Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed," a jittering, scratchy track that shatters the ethereal mood, like a wandering spirit unexpectedly trapped in a glass jar, before smoothing out into a series of delicate, crystalline beats ultimately offset by what sounds like an old sewing machine manufacturing industrial grade stitches.

"K/Half Noise," the album's musical -- and literal -- centerpiece, suggests ancient machinery gradually warming to life, followed by smelting fires raging and closing with a gradual retreat from the heat and toil, masterfully wrestling with the gentle and harsh elements at play throughout the record. "Now There's That Fear Again" incorporates dramatic bellows with haunting vocals that proves the disc's most striking piece, cleverly spelled by "Faraway Swimmingpool," which conveys the sense of water moving through the pipes of a church organ, offering a brief respite -- a moment of true grace. "I Can't Feel My Hand Anymore, It's Alright, Sleep Tight" rekindles the feelings of urgency and panic with a faster beat and swelling strings, before winding down into the masterful title track, which presents a synthesis of the spiritual and mechanical, the reflection of gears interlocking and moving past one another within an organic wellspring. And the gauzily beautiful closer "The Land Between Solar Systems" nicely extols the virtues of cooperation and acquiescence in an increasingly hostile and violent world by tempering more discordant beats with gentler, soothing tones.

While the case could be made that Múm makes music that is barely there, the truth is that such definition seems the highest compliment one could offer the quartet. Like ghosts in the machine, Múm makes its presence known by the sensations it creates, rather than the form it inhabits.

 
Peasant Memories
Kristin and Gyda's primary claim to fame before Múm achieved wider acclaim was appearing on the cover of indie pop stalwarts Belle and Sebastian's 2000 release Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant.

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