Summer Make Good

(Fat Cat; 2004)

By Garin Pirnia | 20 November 2007

The term IDM, or "Intelligent Dance Music," refers to a genre of electronica music that really isn't danceable, but instead evokes a certain emotion due to atmospheric landscapes. In the past few years, groups like Boards of Canada, Fennesz, Dntel, Mouse on Mars and Icelandic import Múm have made names for themselves with their ethereal and moody instrumental/electronic inspired music. Iceland in itself has become a vanguard to talent in recent times, including chanteuse Bjork and indie darlings Sigur Rós. Icelandic natives Múm emerged four years ago with their breakthrough debut, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today is OK, introducing their sound of ambient crackling effects contrasted with plaintive, richly textured experimentations. In 2002, Múm released the more poignant and fluid Finally We Are No One, solidifying their place in the IDM world. And now, just two years later, Múm has finally gotten around to a new album -- Summer Make Good -- that unfortunately abates from their previous novelties.

It opens with the terse "Hú Hviss-A Ship," composed entirely of simple ambient reverberations, which sets the mood for the entire album with eerie and tangible humming gusts of wind clattering out to sea. "Weeping Rock, Rock" follows and it integrates Múm's traditional incorporation of cello, keyboard, mandolin, accordion, drum machine, banjo and the ethereal vocals of Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir. The song is dark and somber yet melodious with the pounding drums and accordion highlighting the experience. The problem with several of the songs on the album, "Rock" being no exception, is Valtýsdóttir's vocal contribution; frankly, her voice sounds like it's coming from a wicked little Gollum girl and her lyrics are frustratingly incoherent, making the listening experience even more complicated. In fact, her voice sounded better on Múm's previous works when it was more, true to its name, digitally enhanced.

"Nightly Cares" sounds more jazz or French inspired, though the strong presence of the accordion makes the song stray from the otherwise intriguing backing track. "Stir" is (unfortunately) one of the few tracks sans vocals and, as such, is effective; the band explores sound effects with a sporadic screeching sound against slow and gentle cello, the combination of which is one of Summer's more interesting moments. Then there's the surprisingly giddy "Island of Children's Children," which breaks from the brooding atmospherics with an almost Caribbean sounding beat. This is the first and only song that lives up to album's warm title, and is a nice break from the solemn and mellow compositions they've come to be known for.

"Away," though only over a minute long, is another piece of filler similar to "Hú Hviss" that visualizes the sound of waves and wind churning in the middle of a desolate sea. On "The Ghosts You Draw On My Back," Múm regains some of it's familiarity with a beautifully stark melody highlighted by the less foreboding and more sweet, childlike vocals. The final track, "Abandoned Ship Bells," brings back the organic drafts of wind rasping and crackling as a bell insistently chimes as a ship passes through a lonesome harbor in the middle of the night. The song brings to mind Icelandic brethren Sigur Rós and gives us hope that Múm might carry the influence over to their next album, creating someting a tad more memorable.

Overall, Múm is a fascinating and compelling band that takes risks with their instrumental explorations, but Summer Make Good is a flat and unemotional album that takes a disappointing turn from Finally We Are No One and Yesterday Was Dramatic's great promise. The sound is choppy and, at times, even uncomfortable, leaving us with the feeling that maybe they are trying to explore too many avenues at once. Múm could fare better if they excised some of vocal tracks if only because this time around they take away from the usually beautiful and emotive instrumental arrangements. But, all is not lost. There are some bright moments on the album and the potential is still there; it's just temporarily lost under the surface of a stormy winter sea.