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CD Review: Múm's Sing Along to Songs You Don't Know

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The Deal: Quirky chamber pop from Icelandic collective.

The Good: Oh, Iceland, with your collapsing currency, "Black Death" liqueur and runic-friendly alphabet – is there no experimental pop you won't encourage? Múm (sounds like 'moom') play second banana to fellow countrymen Sigur Rós (both are forever in Bjork's shadow), but used to fish the same electronica-inflected seas of processed beats, wistful melodies and bilingual (or bi-incomprehensible) lyrics. The emphasis on its fifth studio effort has switched to more organic, folkie instrumentation – prepared piano, marimba, dulcimer, Jew's harp, strings, etc. – and more songs sung in English, though the band's quirky songwriting remains intact. With elfin-voiced Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir no longer its defining trait (thank Thor!), Múm rely on a multitude of voices to convey chamber-pop that reads like a Norse folk choir run through the occasional Pro-Tools chop-shop. When it works, as on the fractured lullaby "Blow Your Nose" or the haunting hymn "Last Shapes of Never," it's like an impressionist's image of folk music where a lack of traditional form doesn't inhibit, but enhances, the pastoral mood.

The Bad: Too often the balance tilts precious and twee, and a ponderous song title like "The Smell of Today is Sweet Like Breastmilk in the Wind" suggests just how pretentious things can get. That track also suggests Múm isn't entirely committed yet to the more organic vibe; there and a few other places the band sounds caught between sonic worlds, the processed beats in effect canceling out the naturalistic vibe.

The Verdict: Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy from 2007 is a superior entry point.

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