Múm’s first album, Yesterday Was Dramatic — Today Is Okay, never really impressed me as much I always thought it should have. It’s not that the album was bad per se. Quite the opposite; there were moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout its length. But it never quite lived up to the expectations and raves that surrounded it, at least for me. If anything, it proved that Múm was a band to watch, one well on their way to releasing a truly captivating album worthy of the hype. And I’m pleased and excited to announce that Finally We Are No One is just such an album.
What really got me anticipating Finally We Are No One was a live MP3 that was circulating the web several months before the album’s release. Featuring Múm performing material from both full-lengths, it was this that truly opened my eyes to what Múm was capable of.
Now, most reviews will lump the Icelandic quartet in with the rest of the IDM camp, which is understandable. They share certain similarities with many of the genre’s finest, such as a love for glitchy rhythms and cut-up beats. But where Múm trumps many so-called IDM artists is the sheer “humanness” that they inject into their music. Too many IDM artists go for too abstract and mechanical a sound, like that of robotic insects on crystal meth, or orchestras composed by hyperactive assembly lines. It’s fascinating to listen to, but on a more cerebral level, one where you can appreciate the complexity of the music the way you would a complex mathematical equation or PHP binaries.
But throughout Finally We Are No One, Múm never lets you forget that live, starry-eyed, wonder-filled humans are behind the music, and not some crazed mad genius. You can honestly hear Múm’s love for their music in every note, sample, and beat. There’s the playful toybox melodies of “Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed,” the nostalgic accordion on “We Have A Map Of The Piano” (which might just be the finest music not included in Amélie’s soundtrack), or the wispy vocals of sisters Gyda and Kristín Anna Valtysdóttir sprinkling oh so much drowsy beauty throughout the album (imagine Björk singing after a nice, long nap).
Although the group uses plenty of glitchwork, stuttering rhythms, and cut-up sampling (what you’d expect from a group self-admittedly inspired by Aphex Twin), the emphasis isn’t on impressing the listener with crazy programming skills. Hence the amount of real instrumentation that appears on the disc (accordion, glockenspiel, guitar, strings), revealing the group’s stunning ability to weave organic sounds into a digital environment. And that’s just what they do… weave their songs together, the result feeling completely natural and effortless.
On “I Can’t Feel My Hand Any More, It’s Alright, Sleep Still,” all of Múm’s musical elements come together in one of the finest displays of electronica’s loveliness I’ve heard since Sufjan Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit. Over the song’s course, Múm’s accordion, playful keyboard melodies, and breakbeats transform into a nigh-overwhelming arrangement of strings and sonic debris. It’s such that one wonders why more artists don’t attempt it (though I’m sure history is littered with those who’ve tried).
But Múm’s true beauty lies in the album’s gentler, dreamier moments. The title track starts off slowly, with quiet drones creeping over static and muted noise. Gently, delicate tones begin to take shape, growing more distinct as the song progresses. Rattles and other toy-like percussion also chime in, fading away as soon as they make a peep. It’s like watching a toy store slowly come to life after the shopkeeper has left, the toys finally able to come alive now that noone’s watching — the little ballerinas stretching, teddy bears wiping the sleep from their eyes, toy soldiers jerkily taking up formation as the little drummerboys strike up a halting cadence.
It’s a musical world with something to behold at every turn, contained in an album pulled off with such childlike wonder and innocent ease that only the hardest and most cynical of hearts won’t be touched.