The press release for the new Múm record paints a picture of a revolving lineup of musicians, a collective drifting in and out of the creative process. I think this probably plays down the impact certain departing members had on the quality of the work released after Summer Makes Good, their claustrophobic and quite brilliant third album. I lost touch with them after said record, I found the projects thereafter lacking in the effortless “otherness” that marked their early work apart from their peers. It is with a sense of relief then that upon playing through Smilewound the sound and atmosphere that made them such an interesting proposition in the first place is present, at least in part.
‘Toothwheels’ is more focused and propulsive (for Múm). It dispenses with the overly mannered vocals of the past, taking a cue from Bat For Lashes with tasteful electronic furnishes and delicately balanced strings. It’s a fine opener. The first half of the record continues in a similar vein, ‘Underwater Snow’ is stately and affecting, more akin to their more impactful earlier works. The dual vocals are startling at first, the soaring, REALLY high harmonies blossom out of a simple piano motif in what is a clear standout and a return to the effortless grasp of intertwining melodies which made their early stuff so good. ‘When Girls Collide’ is a bouncy, Lemon Jelly inspired thing which again combines some lovely harmonies with plenty of glitch. ‘Slow Down’ creates an enveloping layer of beats and strings with a deceptively simple hook which rounds out an opening batch of songs as cohesive and impressive as any they’ve produced so far.
Sadly, from there on the record is a scattershot affair with too many eminently skippable songs. ‘One Smmmmmmile’ doesn’t really know where to go, so chases its own tail for over five minutes coming on like the theme tune to a children’s TV show crossed with 70’s car chase music, along with ‘Candlestick’ which seems satisfied with sounding like a Little Boots cast off. ‘Sweet Impressions’, a cover, is nice enough but along with ‘Time To Scream And Shout’ feels too inconsequential. ‘The Colorful Stabwound’ improves things immeasurably during the second half. It’s the most straightforward thing I have heard Múm put to tape. It’s all close mic’d loveliness, circling vocal layered in front of drums and bass and it sounds grand.
I think ultimately, Múm are, and will always be a niche affair. Too twee for some whilst being too weird for the rest. The disparate elements they bring together on Smilewound don’t always work, in fact, at least a third of the record for me is quite poor. It’s when it DOES come together though that things get interesting. There are moments here that are truly lovely and capture that aforementioned “otherness” they made their stock and trade all those years ago. There strangely seems to be an underlying uncertainty of just how quirky to get, or just how commercial to make things which can prove frustrating. The swirling, discombobulating samples at times seem at odds with the other, more commercial elements of the songs. There are though, just enough moments of intoxicating weirdness and gorgeous little melodies which make Smilewound worthwhile.
Words: Humbert Humbert