Múm: Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy

Three years on from the underwhelming Summer Make Good album, Múm returns re-configured and re-invigorated with Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy, Let Your Crooked Hands Be Holy. Instrumentally, the Icelandic group's sound has changed little—a wealth of toybox melodies, squirrely beats, and sonic eclecticism remains firmly rooted in place—but, with the departure of Kristin Valtysdottir, Múm's vocal persona has undergone a radical overhaul. With Kristin's sister Gyda already having left the group (in September 2002), Múm has retired one of its signatures, the child-like singing that often divisively split listeners into two camps. Nothing's lacking on the instrumental front, despite the fact that Múm's core is now Gunnar Tynes and Orvar Smirason, since the duo have added new recruits to bring the member total to seven. In addition to percussionist Samuli Kosminen, cellist Hildur Gudnadottir, and trumpeter Eirikur Orri Olafsson, Tynes and Smirason have fleshed out the vocal dimension by adding Sigurlaug Gísladóttir and string player Ólöf Arnalds. Consequently, the vocal delivery is as full as in the past, just less twee (or less distinctive, depending on one's disposition) in style.

The new material, free of the lugubrious, waterlogged ambiance that sunk Summer Make Good, exudes joyful jubilance. With its cut-up samples and music box melodies, “They Made Frogs Smoke ‘Til They Exploded” is characteristic of the album's rambunctious spirit, with “I Was Her Horse” a rare example of melancholy contrast. As before, the group's sound is full and rich, with strings, glockenspiels, music boxes, hamonicas, accordions, horns, melodicas, clarinets, junkyard percussion, and broken-down electronics dotting the sonic landscape. “School Song Misfortune” depicts one such wonderland of instrumental colour but it's hardly alone in that regard. One song even dates back to the era of Yesterday was dramatic, today is OK (I'm guessing it's “Dancing Behind My Eyelids,” whose melodic buoyancy is strongly reminiscent of that earlier album's style). If Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy isn't at the peak level of Finally We Are No One, (certainly none of the new songs is a match for "Green Grass of Tunnel" or "The Land Between Solar Systems," for starters) it's certainly surpasses Summer Make Good. Múm's high-spirited and colourful new material establishes itself as a relative return to form.

November 2007