múm occupies a weird place in the world of music, which is appropriate given that they are very much the weird kids’ band. After their start as an experimental ambient electronic band, a few lineup changes brought them to an organic pop sound. All the while, they’ve never tried to fit in, and that’s what makes them so endearing. Smilewound, the latest album from múm, continues their development as a weird pop band, occasionally dipping into a kind of fantasy folk feel. While they may often find themselves in the same sentences as Bjork and Sigur Ros, the múm of today have very little in common with those acts. Their sound is somewhat divided– at times, it’s heavy on woodsy fiddle-harmony strings. Those warm string tones are layered over glitchy electronic beats and hushed, nearly whispered vocals. At other times, the band curves more toward a more conventional electronic pop sound.
Songs like “Candlestick” and “When Girls Collide” find Smilewound going into more pure pop territory with largely electronic instrumentals and sing-along refrains. Where múm really shine, however, is on the more kitschy side of their sound. When they start building their songs on bells whistles, rather than drum machines and sequencers, is when they become truly likable. múm has always been good at melding organic and synthetic sounds, and they accomplish this goal particularly well on “Eternity is the Wait Between Breaths.” Repeated chime melodies and sonar blips form the backdrop for an easy-listening instrumental that sounds like sunrise on a cabin in the woods. The band gets into the same sound on the aptly misnamed “Time to Scream and Shout,” a creepy lullaby about vandalism.
If there’s one downfall for Smilewound, it’s that really great moments like these are being edged out by a more intrusive, catchy pop sound. One of the things that has always made múm a fun band is that they never tried to fit in. Even though their vocal delivery can come off sounding like a runt kitten’s whine and they can be relentlessly corny, their unabashed willingness to be corny and weird has made them special. With Smilewound, they haven’t lost their unique charm, but they have gone in a more conventional direction with much of their music.