esterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK is the excellent first album by the Icelandic group Mum. That's right, Iceland - home of such musical darlings as Bjork and Sigur Ros. While YWDTWOK isn't an immediate classic such as Homogenic or Agaetis Byrjun, it does showcase Mum's unique talent and bodes well for a promising future for the group.
The story goes that Mum was a regular rock band until the members picked up some Aphex Twin. Their conceptions of music were shattered and they reformed into an IDM act. The Aphex influence is palpable on the entire album - clearly whoever did the drum programming went to the Richard D. James school of caffeinated drill-and-bass. However, Mum throws so much into their songs that their sound is completely their own. YWDTWOK uses a variety of sounds to conjure up images of childlike innocence and playfulness - if Kraftwerk had a daycare, these kids would be graduates.
The album starts off directly in this vein with the aptly-titled "I'm 9 Today." A warm synth melody combines with a hyperactive glitchy beat and an accordion. That's right. An accordion. In fact, the accordion makes several appearances throughout the album, along with other live instrumentation - guitar, bass, trumpet, and harpsichord to name a few. However, these instruments are fully embraced into the songs without a hint of irony or goofiness, unlike similar endeavors by Mouse on Mars. It's as if Mum is too innocent to understand that an accordion just shouldn't go in an IDM track, and this naivety is precisely what makes the combination work.
"Smell Memory" is perhaps the darkest track on the album. A glitchy beat combined with a dark bass line and some layered harpsichord riffs build tension until the song completely shifts gears. The tempo scoots around while toy piano melodies compete with what sound like 8-bit video game noises. The beat shifts into drill and bass, and then into an electro/hip-hop beat that would have been quite comfortable in Inculabula. "Smell Memory" serves as a homage to Mum's key electronic influences - shades of Arovane, Kraftwerk, Boards of Canada, Autechre, and Aphex Twin can all be found in one 9 minute track. The song also highlights a trait from the album - many tracks contain what could easily be divided into 2 or 3 songs. It works perfectly with the "child" motif Mum uses - it's as if their attention spans are too short to keep one song going for more than four minutes. After that, they get bored, and wander off into new territory, like an eight-year-old tiring of a toy and moving on to something else. And although this works with YWDTWOK's mood, it doesn't lend the songs much cohesiveness.
The best track is easily "The Ballad of the Broken Birdie Records." A guitar and bass play a simple, somber pattern while a high-end spastic harpsichord tumbles along. These cut out in favor of an analog synth-bass. All of a sudden, a steady rock beat kicks in with some of the most beautiful, ethereal singing this side of Sigur Ros. My only complaint is that this is the only song with vocals.
Mum is at their best throwing everything but the kitchen sink into their songs. However, their songwriting skill could use polish. The two minimal tracks don't add much to the album - "Random Summer" is nothing but shimmery electronic patterns and various synth chords and "The Ballad of the Broken String" comes off as a duet between Oval and an accordion. However, YWDTWOK is a very strong debut album. With a little maturation, the kids of Mum could very well prove revolutionary.
Reviewed by: Gavin Mueller
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01