Múm: Early Birds

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Múm: <i>Early Birds</i>

Experimental Icelandic band Múm has gone through several incarnations since forming in the late ‘90s. They released their debut album,Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is OK, in 2000 on Morr Music, and have since put out four additional full-length albums and a number of other recordings. The band’s only two consistent members have been founders Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason, and over the years they have developed Múm’s sound from groupings of sonic experiments into more cohesive, formally structured songs. For their most recent studio release, 2009’s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, Tynes and Smárason enlisted the help of Icelandic up-and-comer Ólöf Arnalds to help create their most vocally-oriented album to date.

Experimentation still lies at the heart of Múm’s music, however, and the groundwork for the band’s sonic exploration was laid during a period from 1998-2000, when Tynes and Smárason made a conscious decision to veer away from guitar-centric pop music. For two years, the duo traveled across Europe, experimenting with unconventional instrumentation, sound and a variety of field recordings. They would shack up wherever they could, seeking out any available studio space to record their findings and flesh out the sound that would come to exemplify Múm’s music.

These formative years are what Early Birds aims to encapsulate. The 15-track collection of rarities and early recordings captures Múm in its most nascent stage, and serves as a chronicle of Tynes and Smárason’s process of musical discovery.

Early Birds is nearly entirely instrumental, but the term “instrumental” is somewhat of a misnomer. The album’s songs see the duo experimenting heavily with a dazzling collection of largely unidentifiable field recordings and electronic manipulations. Sparse guitar parts and other limited sections of traditional instrumentation are interspersed to give context to Tynes and Smárason’s experimentations, but the magic of Early Birds lies in the mesmerizing sonic tableaus that run through the entire album.

The rawness of these recordings is perhaps best illustrated on the album’s closing track, “Enginn vildi hlusta á fiðlunginn, því strengir hans vóru slitnir (getiði ekki verið góð við mömmu okkar),” a 10-minute-long pastiche of field recordings, found sounds and experimental noise that would eventually become “Ballad of the Broken String,” from the band’s 2000 full-length debut. The differences and similarities between these two tracks provide a pointed example of the band’s evolution. Though not all of the tracks on the album were fashioned into future releases—or have even been heard before—fans of Múm will find the entirety of the Early Birds a fascinating window into the band’s origins.