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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

múm -- Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy

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What múm looked like at this point:
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By now, I've already written four múm reviews, and I've still four more to write. Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy is a bit of a tipping point in múm's career. Múm's first music featured unique soundscapes, utilizing mainly electronics, and featuring a small amount of acoustic instrumentation, and an even smaller amount of vocals. However, these elements moved in opposite directions with each album to the point that Go Go Smear..., album number four, features just as much, if not more acoustic instrumentation than electronics, and prominent vocals on almost every track. However, Go Go Smear... is in many ways a reset. Múm's debut evoked the sub-aural sounds of childhood, while their second ventured a little further into the lifespan and featured a bit more shadow. Their third album, respectively, is overwhelmed by darkness. It's back to the beginning with Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, though, as the album takes things back to childhood, sounding like it could have been recorded in a joyfully deranged elementary school. With that said, múm's first album sounds nothing like Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy. This album might as well have been made by a different band.
In a way, it was: core songwriters/band-founders, Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason are still around, but the Valtýsdóttir twins have hit the road (one had hit the road long before). The twin sisters had blessed múm with their unique vocals and instrumental work, and in their place, Tynes and Smárason have recruited a ragtag band of musicians and singers. In addition to this change, at least one of the original male duo sings at times, a first for the band.
In all honesty, all this change is a breath of fresh air. I don't think Go Go Smear... is quite on the level as múm's first few albums, but this is a direction the band needed to take. The songs here are full of strings and trumpets and hold a reckless sort of energy--they should fall apart at the seems, but they don't. All of this is on display with the gorgeous, strikingly original opening track, "Blessed Brambles."

"Blessed Brambles" begins with a quiet hope, before breaking into the high energy of its six-minute remainder. The lyrics are absolutely insane, the first words sang:
Bless the weeds that grow on the yard
Just like rain and dust appear
Bless the dogs who talk to ferns
Let's let's kiss the boys who pee in mud

This strange prayer continues throughout the song, sang together by male and female vocals. "Blessed Brambles" concludes with a line that might as well be the album's mission statement: let your crooked hands be holy, along with a beautiful cacophony of strings, horns, and electronic bursts that sound like ice thawing in the sun of the song. Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy is a celebration of imperfect beauty.
The album contains three more songs of this high a quality, the surprisingly tender and gentle "Moon Pulls," the gorgeous, lilting "Marmalade Fires," and the sugar rush of "Behind My Eyelids."
The rest of the album isn't quite up to the level up those four standouts. A few are strange experiments that don't quite work, particularly the harsh dub of "These Eyes Are Berries," and some are filler that simply fail to register, like "I Was Her Horse." However, most of the rest of the album is quite enjoyable. "They Made Frogs Smoke 'Til They Exploded," is a bizarre, but fun collage of sound. "Schoolsong Misfortune" is a slight bit of beauty, like a crew of fourth graders found some instruments in the back of the classroom and somehow created something pleasant to the ear. "Guilty Rocks" sounds like, in my five-year old's opinion, video game music (and he means that as a compliment), while I feel like it fully espouses a European presence found more subtly throughout the album, a wintry one only fully realized in the last couple of tracks. This wintry presence is especially apparent on album-closer, "Winter (What We Never Were After All," with its chilly sequencing, ancient instrumentation, and foreboding choir--it would be right at home in a classic Tim Burton film, like Edward Scissorhands--like all the land that thawed out in the first track has frozen back over. Thus ends a strange, and strangely satisfying album. Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy isn't the best thing múm have ever recorded, but it's a key step in the band's constant evolution, a brave change of pace, and a refreshingly original piece of work.

2007 FatCat Records
1. Blessed Brambles 6:00
2. A Little Bit, Sometimes 3:50
3. They Made Frogs Smoke 'Til They Exploded 4:02
4. These Eyes Are Berries 3:00
5. Moon Pulls 2:32
6. Marmalade Fires 5:03
7. Rhubarbidoo 1:34
8. Dancing Behind My Eyelids 4:07
9. Schoolsong Misfortune 2:39
10. I Was Her Horse 2:08
11. Guilty Rocks 5:02
12. Winter (What We Never Were After All) 4:08

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