Icelandic oddball pop ensemble, Múm, has always banked on their aesthetic of scoring a paracosmic universe with the chorus of an otherworldly orchestra. Although their childlike princess trope can get tiresome at times, it’s usually juxtaposed by sinister affectations like high-strung strings, staccato automaton-like beats and occasionally ambiguous lyrics that balance their arctic yin-yang. The Colorful Stabwound and Time To Scream And Shout are the best evidence of that theme this time around on their sixth album. Although all instrumental, Eternity Is The Wait Between Breaths is another great example, with wailing strings and bells chiming likes a metronomic cuckoo clock. Gyða Valtýsdóttir, an orignal Múm founder, returns after an 11-year break from the band. Her whisper/sing, borderline confessional lyrics feel as if she’s standing only inches for your ear, adding another layer of welcome weird.
Unfortunately, every track doesn’t follow this tact. The upbeat tracks, particularly Colorful Impression, fall flat. Yes, the texture is pleasant, but the melodies don’t have the grip of the spookier songs. Overall, the band doesn’t mine their darker side as thoroughly as on 2007′s creep-heavy Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy or their sumblime 2001 release, Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is OK. Sure, they’ve always had a outre-pop sound of off-kilter beats, but without the extra eerie sonic elements—be it the choral vocal nods or the chillingly ambiguous lyrical themes—it’s just another nondescript orchestral track. And sometimes, Múm looses its way as it stumbles down these rabbit holes. This time, the band goes over the top with the glitch, like When Girls Collide,, where the pure volume of the clubby beats and programmed sound is a distraction from group’s typical strengths.
The album’s high point is the bonus track, Whistle, which is coincidentally a collaboration with Kylie Minogue, that details the emotions of an ephemeral friendship. Whether it’s success is due to the inclusion of Minogue’s more ample vocals or because the track is a more complete culmination of Múm’s off-kilter pop is debatable. But it’s obvious that both pack together perfectly.
Smilewound traipses all over the place, sometimes tripping as it finds it’s path. But when it does, it surges with moments of delicate finesse and threatening omnission.