Mentions of Icelandic bands inevitably will conjure images of weirdness. Whether it be the ever-peculiar creations of space-age songstress Bjork or experimental electronic tendencies from the likes of Sigur Ros, the icy landscape, the ethereal ambience of Iceland itself creates an ambience of both peace and an introspective unrest.
Encased in complexities both sonically and emotionally, experimental Icelandic collective múm has shared their first formal release since 2009‘s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know. The new compilation of songs Early Birds, recorded in the height of the band’s formative years between 1998 and 2000, displays exclusive tracks extracted from demos and limited edition vinyl releases, at long last archived and released. Additionally, it features a digital booklet illustrated with minimalist drawings and a typewritten card accompanying each individual track. More than anything, it documents the progression of an enigmatic band, a chronological account of ventures to stealing organ beats from neighbors to recording never-released tracks for school plays amidst a migration to Berlin and beyond.
Where bands can be so eager to release a publicity scheme of greatest hits, Early Birds feels familiar, an organic array of unpolished tracks where the band sometimes chatters distantly in their native Icelandic, the sound of tuned instruments and their movement audible. The DIY recording style of the comp is impressive in both its quality and innovation, with vocals recorded in bathtubs and stray sounds captured onto a four-track. Overall, the collection listens as a fluid, uncomplicated series of spontaneous moments.
Opener “Bak Þitt Er Sem Rennibraut” exudes a coy playfulness immediately, one where the listener can nearly picture the band crouched behind pews listening to the sounds of a choir rehearsal (the first thing one hears in the beginning of the track). “Gingúrt” melds accordions and a prevalent streak of Neutral Milk Hotel nostalgia, while the ghostly “Glerbrot” collectively combines odd field recordings — particularly the clanking cafeteria sounds of bus drivers on their break. The compilation becomes more introspective as the album moves forward, highlighted by the gorgeous simplicity of “Hufeland.”
Admittedly the tracks become difficult to distinguish when listened to as a whole, drenched in a similar structure of whimsical electronica. Yet the softly layered beats and peculiar sounds give múm a sort of inspiring ambience. Unlike the surreality of their peers, distant and hiding behind static, múm is entirely here, wholly present and astoundingly beautiful.