BY JENNIFER KELLY
Múm’s sixth full length album edges away from the full-throated, folk melodies of 2009’s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, returning instead to the glitchily paced, twee pop of earlier years. Smilewound puts electronic rhythms right at the front of the mix, leaving tetchy space in their interstices. The organic elements of Sing Along — guitar, strings, piano and, especially voice – have receded to a sweet hum in the background, too sweet, perhaps to be real or moving.
When single “Toothwheels” scratches and hisses to life, it is all electronic beat stuttering, stopping and sliding in sandpapery abrasion. When, later, a bit of luminous keyboard, a staccato pluck of strings intercedes, it does nothing to smooth out the track. Instead, all elements are subsumed into beat, an abstracted, emotionally remote cadence which neither digs very deep nor reaches very high. Indeed, when the vocals come in, almost an afterthought, they are high, sweet baby-ish and not entirely believable.
Even “Underwater Snow” with its melancholy piano chords, its lyrical slow-ness, gets lost in angel-choir abstraction, as the singer reaches well past the top of her range. She’s more comfortable against the bone-dry rhythms of “When Girls Collide,” murmuring the track title in a baby-talk coo. There’s even a dizziness in the song’s gorgeous descants, a sense of overload and overabundance missing on this hemmed-in, closed-off album.
Múm tends to start songs with its barest, most synthetic sounds, the midi tones that kick off “Slow Down” and “Candlestick”, the clinking metallic jangle of “One Smile.” From there, things get denser, more fluid, more soulful, but they stop short of the full-bore ecstasies of, say, “Hullaballoo.” The sound of the singing, so high, so child-like, so forcedly innocent, is the sound of this album. They are trying too hard for precocious-ness, not enough for worn-in beauty.
DOWNLOAD: “Slow Down,” “One Smile”