Sometimes the best music is the stuff that you initially ignore. I remember the first time I laid eyes on Mugison's third album, Mugimama, Is This Monkey Music? It was early this past summer, and I was opening mail for the publication I intern for. One of the packages contained the version of this record released by Accidental in May, its primitively scrawled cover vulnerable for the world to see. Before entering it into the incoming-CD spreadsheet, I gawked at it for a moment and prepared to make fun of the album's ridiculous title. Before I had the chance, the magazine's reviews editor stopped by my desk. We made fun of the album for a bit without even listening to it, and the editor said, "I don't know why you even have to enter in some of this stuff that comes in the mail" before walking away.
Within two months, the same editor would take an international flight to interview Mugison for the magazine, and I would be writing a review of the re-released version for Prefix.
Perhaps my mom was right when she would repeat the adage to me as a child, "You can't judge a book by its cover." Much like a tome that old idiom describes, Mugimama has sat around, largely ignored, all year long. Had I not popped the disc in on a whim, perhaps I would be one of the many ignoring it still today. Articles on Mugison in the U.S. press are few and far between, and I'm yet to figure out why. In Mugi's home country of Iceland, this "monkey music" is actually popular music. "Murr Murr," which appears on the album, beat out Björk for the Song of the Year award at this year's Icelandic Music Awards (he also took home Best Artwork and Album of the Year honors).
It's not as if Mugison's music is inaccessible, either. The gorgeous "2 Birds" tells the story of Mugi and his girlfriend transitioning from the awkward "I know you like me" phase to love with lines such as, "We stayed up late and slept all day." The award-winning "Murr Murr" combines Mugi's stream-of-consciousness lyrics with his friend Pétur Benediktsson's lightning-fast fingers on acoustic guitar for a sound that should be required listening for any open-mike performer.
Perhaps the most relatable song on the album is the one it begins with. "I Want You" not only boasts vocals that sound like a ragged version of Chris Martin's stadium-filling throat noise, but it also churns out a chorus that is as chill-inducing in musical accompaniment as it is tear-jerking in its "come back to me" lyrical content:
"Baby let's go dancing
like we talked about.
I'll do the strange guy
and you can shout,
'Look at my weird boy,
he's one of a kind.
He makes me laugh
and he makes me cry.'"
Then, as if we haven't had enough, Mugi lays out the culmination: "This kind of love is hard to find."
He then rips into one heartbreaker of a guitar solo, and there's no hope for resistance.
Mugison can play the weird card with the best of them. "The Chicken Song" begins with piano sounds that go forward, then backward, then forward again, disorienting the listener. But the lyrics are the most important to this piece. The track juxtaposes wisdom-wielding motivational lines with seemingly tossed off raps. For example:
"See, the chicken is one of very few birds that never can fly, but even with its head chopped off, he'll still give it a hell of a try. How beautiful is that?"
And then, moments later:
"I'm not a vegetarian, but I like sittin' in the grass. Don't them thongs, but I love tits and ass. Watch yourself!"
All this, and Mugison hasn't even shown his best cards yet. On "Sad as a Truck," he claims, "Songs like this can drive a man insane," and he's not kidding. The utterly schizophrenic track switches directions, channels and states of mind, sounding like what would occur if Tom Waits, Beck and James Brown were locked in a studio together. It's one of the best and weirdest tracks of 2005, and somehow manages to fit into the beautiful mess that is Mugimama.
All told, it sounds like a mixed bag, but that's because it is, and that's where its greatest strengths lie. Mugimama's normal moments are enough to please your average listener; its bizarre laments happily satisfy the rest of us. It just goes to show you that sometimes the geeky-looking kid gets the girl, the junkyard car wins the drag race, and the album you stubbornly refuse to listen to is one of the best of the year.
Artist site: http://www.mugison.com/
Label site: http://www.ipecac.com/
Downloads and samples of the album: http://www.mugison.com/Mugison/Music/albums/Mugimama/
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