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Múm - Summer Make Good

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Artist: Múm

Album: Summer Make Good

Label: FatCat

Review date: May. 26, 2004

Since their inception some six years ago, Icelandic group Múm's music has always functioned as a curious amalgam of twee pop and modern day laptop electronica – balancing the childlike naiveté and hooks of the former with the sophisticated clicks and pops of the latter. As a quartet, the band soldiered through two full-lengths, plying their tracks with warm melodies that blended traditional acoustic instruments with a deft knack for Pro Tools-esque computer trickery. For Summer Make Good, their third album, the group has been pared down to a trio after the departure of Gy'a Valt'sdottir (leaving her sister Kristin Anna to handle the vocal duties), thus eliminating any twin star power and vocal counterbalance the group may have previously had. Even more surprising is the absence of the number of intangible qualities that made Múm's older music (which was not in and of itself an incredibly original proposition) so worthwhile in the first place. While Múm's music has always posed a mysterious, melodic invitation to the listener, their latest offering feels flat at times, with very few signposts marking the way and even fewer landmarks inviting one back again.

Central to the group's older material was the synergy created from simple beats and melodies. Much to their credit, this newly minted trio tries to create some semblance of ambiance to fuel their recordings – after all, most of the album was written and recorded in a series of isolated/abandoned lighthouses and weather stations. And yet something is still amiss, even from the opening strains of noise captured on "Hu Hviss - A Ship." The careful balance that the group had always struck between all instruments and elements – be they electronic or acoustic, vocal or instrumental – has been thrown entirely out of sync.

Surprisingly, this doesn't really affect the first proper track of the record, the enigmatic "Weeping Rock, Rock." Starting with delicately plucked guitars that grow to encompass percussive noise bleats and elegiac horn lines, the song centers itself on Valt'sdottir's sing-song vocals and some forceful drumming. And even though the track is strong, it signifies a direction shift that may not be entirely welcome – away from the carefully integrated electronics of old and into a moody concrete type of piece to which their grounding as a pop band doesn't lend easily.

The band explores similar terrain on "Nightly Cares," the following track and first single from the record. Although it displays a newfound penchant for exploring the sounds of other acoustic instruments, the diminished electronic accompaniment doesn't hold the listener rapt in the least. Furthermore, the prominence of the vocals betrays a waifishness that feels forced and quickly wears thin. While Valt'sdottir's overall vocal style hasn't changed, its place in the mix has, replacing any previous sense of enigma with a bit of annoyance.

Not all of the songs contained herein lack focus. "Sing Me Out the Window" is a beauty, an instrumental save for breathless chants that permeate the mix. The emphasis is still on traditional acoustics, but brief snippets of trickery work themselves throughout the framework. "Islands of the Children's Children" is similarly great, with droning melodica lines setting the stage for the seasickness of clanking percussion and subtle strings.

Sadly, things peak there. Much of what remains on the record is given over to tracks that either seem to spend their entire runtime trying to desperately establish themselves ("Will the Summer Make Good for All Our Sins") or brief interludes that go nowhere. One can’t fault Múm for wanting a new direction. After all, if previous acts with twee sensibilities have taught us anything it's that the same impulses spread thin over numerous records yield steadily diminishing results. At the same time, though, it's almost as if Múm tried too hard to change their course on Summer Make Good, squeezing barren landscapes into their music, instead of allowing for a more gradual assimilation. It's almost as if, in the quest to create an engaging mood, Múm abandoned their songs.

By Michael Crumsho

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