t looks like Mùm called my bluff. When I reviewed their last album, I praised its wanton experimentation as perfectly evocative of a childlike low attention span, but yearned for more cohesive song structure. Well, I got it. Finally We are No One bears little resemblance to Mùm’s breakthrough Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Was OK besides similar instrumentation and a shared aesthetic for fragile innocence. However, Yesterday Was Dramatic seemed more like toddlers exploring the possibilities of glitch, Finally We are No One displays solid melodies and precise arrangement that doesn’t so much evoke childhood itself, but rather a nostalgia for it.
First of all, the drill-and-bass is gone for good. The percussion on Finally We are No One is appropriately glitchy, but always rooted in fixed drum loops, very much like the Notwist’s Neon Golden. Glitch is not so much a philosophy or a method; instead it’s an accoutrement, just a stylistic adornment to the percussion. The purpose of this decoration isn’t clear, but I suspect (and I have similar suspicions with Neon Golden) that Mùm hopes the glitch effects will disguise the simplicity of the drum patterns. There’s nothing inherently wrong with simple drum patterns, but Finally We are No One falls into the same category as Neon Golden -- these are pretty pop songs in IDM clothing.
And love it or hate it, Mùm is obviously shooting for pop accessibility with Finally We are No One. After a short, atmospheric intro, the album plunges into the shimmeringly pastoral “Green Grass of Tunnel (Video Edit).” If the song title is to be believed, we should see even more Icelanders running around MTV2 (no problems here; the girls in Mùm are quite cute). The song is the obvious single: it’s short, pretty, and representative of the rest of the album. Xylophone arpeggios and a bass hum back brittle keyboard melodies and some of the beautiful vocals that tantalized me on the previous album. Vocals appear on about half the tracks, an obvious choice given pixyish quality of the singer’s voice.
Mùm again incorporates a variety of live instruments, but the uses are more straightforward. Cellos, trumpets, and accordions – oh God, so many accordions! – dutifully show up to tweak out melody lines, completely untreated by studio effects (a la the harpsichords from Yesterday Was Dramatic’s “Smell Memory”). The obvious album centerpiece (eight minutes long sandwiched between shorter, instrumental tracks), “K/Half Noise” employs a variety of live instruments for a steady build-up-break-down song structure. Dark, muffled organ sets the stage for a plaintive piano line, which is echoed by wordless singing. Cello, accordion, and viola come in one by one, playing the original melody line, and then repeating for the rest of the song, each instrument putting slight interpretations on the main theme. Eventually, the song peaks at a crescendo and dies away into atmospheric buzzes and computer blips. The song is undeniably beautiful, but also quite conventional, a word not usually associated with IDM acts.
Nothing on Finally We are No One is very revolutionary at all. The tweaked idyllic melodies echo Bogdan Raczynski’s My Love I Love (Mùm puts a more songful spin on the style, while Bogdan seems more nakedly honest in his emotions). But Mùm doesn’t emulate any artist with Finally We are No One so much as their countrymen Sigur Ros (the comparison is trite, but apt). Both put an emotional, melodic spin on genres not noted for having either (glitch and post-rock respectively). And both can be easily accused of being a bit manipulative in their approaches (the string section positively weeps in “I Can't Feel My Hand Any More, It's Alright, Sleep Still”). But Mùm saves its “Svefn-G-Englar” for the last track, the epic-length “The Land Between Solar Systems.” Underwater sonar tones evolve into another tranquil melody. A gentle swishing drum supports some nice double-tracked vocals: each vocal line plays off each other quite nicely, creating an air of spontaneity inside a deceptively rigid song structure. Piano, accordion, and complementary drum fills surface as if emerging from some watery depth. Finally, some spastic drum kicks overwhelm the song and it collapses.
So once again I’m faced with an album that belies Mùm’s obvious talent, but stops short of greatness. I look for something a bit more revolutionary in my music, but Finally We are No One is a pleasant trip through a beautiful countryside. And I’m still hopeful for something groundbreaking from the group, although a preference for accessibility may put this dream on hold.
Reviewed by: Gavin Mueller
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01