Directed with a marveling curiosity, the melody-dazed electronics of Yesterday Was Dramatic Today Is OK were a compelling, sense-bewildering delight. Since then, the Icelandic outfit Mùm have added another page to their picture-book history: their latest album, Finally We Are No One.
Given that the band met at a children's play, it's no surprise that Mùm continue to tap into that sense of wide-eyed inventiveness and brightness that strongly lit their previous release. Thus, on this second album, there are confetti-bursts of noises, hopscotching twinkles ("Don't Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed"; "Behind Two Hills ... A Swimming Pool") and intricately kaleidoscopic songs ("Green Grass of Tunnel").
While voices were rather muted on their last album, here Mùm have added the warm susurrations of female vocals to their already rich palette. Notably, though, the soft, breathy tones actually mark the inward feel that pervades several songs on Finally We Are No One ("We Have a Map of the Plane," "Now There's That Fear Again" and "The Land Between Solar Systems"). The crepuscular mood of these songs is, in a way, too effective. The insular prettiness of "The Land Between Solar Systems" emphasizes the vastness of distance in a rather too-close-for-comfort manner, in the same way an imaginative but truth-hitting story told by a child can be confrontational in its artless perception. The song's flurry of plaintive harmonica notes feels like a scattering of far-reaching, multiple sadnesses over immense spaces.
This is my problem with Finally We Are No One: it really leaves me miffed. I was hoping for more of the open-hearted sparkle and Catherine-wheel electinkering of Yesterday Was Dramatic Today Is OK. And yes, there are skittering curiosities on this album, but some of these songs affect me more sharply than I expected. Listening to "The Land Between Solar Systems" is like having someone shelling at my emotions which sounds incongruous, given the sweet-toned vivacity that Mùm apply to their songs, but it is so.
While it is great for a band to be prospecting for new directions and inventive sounds and certainly Finally We Are No One is a beautiful album to listen to Mùm left the bar in a vertiginous position after Yesterday Was Dramatic..., and so this new release falls somewhat short by comparison. Perhaps the big difference between these albums is that when I listen to Yesterday Was Dramatic..., my constantly renewed wonder for this album always startles me, as do the fresh subtleties that surface so long after its initial playing, while Finally We Are No One is pretty, intricate and a worthwhile album, but one I feel ultimately won't have the long-life punch of Yesterday Was Dramatic.... So while listening to their first album was a thumbed lift to a universe of crackling colors and spectacle, the journey on Mùm's second album is splendidly inventive and worthwhile, but the destination isn't as enduring.