Somnambule - Writing About Music

Rethinking Múm ~ Summer Make Good Revisited

I reviewed Summer Make Good for the inestimable Absorb.Org in April of this year. Or, rather, I asked six friends to write about their reaction to a single track chosen to be representative of the album as a whole (The Ghosts You Draw On My Back). You can find that review here. Why present it in such a way? Although I’d heard a little of Múm in the past, having to review the cd prompted concentrated listening and I found myself uncomfortable with the strength of my reaction to Múm’s singer, Kristin Anna Valtysdottir. In a desire to prevent that reaction from dominating my response I decided somewhat impulsively to seek other opinions, hence the multi-perspective format.

I continued to listen to Summer Make Good after I’d completed the review, perhaps prompted by a twist of fascination at the strength of my initial response, but also because although some friends shared my reaction, others felt differently. This highlights some of the unattractive aspects of review writing, namely that they’re generally written by one person within a relatively short period of time and, once written, they stand there immutably (unless, that is, they decay disgracefully). Prompted by the release of a limited edition book form of this cd, this review and its predecessor seek to address, directly or indirectly, those conditions.

It’s my impression that Múm’s third album was received in rather a lukewarm manner - that’s only an impression gleaned from reading a few random reviews rather than compiling anything with any pretense to empiricism. It seemed that Summer Make Good was viewed as too similar to its predecessors. I’d now suggest instead that the problem is that the album is a more subtle, spooked and fragmented affair and therefore more difficult to assimilate in a relatively short space of time. There are songs, but they’re like little islands to cling onto while rocked by seas awash with flotsam and jetsam. Reviews can’t be anything but personal, no matter how the author tries to achieve a semblance of neutrality (I try it all the time and surely fail). It’s my own feeling – and experience - with this album that it’s necessary to surrender yourself to all that sonic driftwood and a sense of incidental beauty to gradually form from it. If you’re able to do that, the songs take on the semblance of storm-bound mirages, lovely to behold but no more or less real than the shifting seas that surround them. At times this album seems to enact a rapprochement between the generally distinct areas of glitch, songform and ambient. Summer Make Good is an extended tone poem to the weathered beauty of coastal Iceland. It increasingly becomes evident that it’s the product of a group whose ambition is increasing rather than running out of ideas (as some commentators have stated).

If you’re a Múm fan, then this limited presentation edition is inescapable, its design and content are as tangential as the group’s music. It refuses to make anything approaching linear sense, but rather relies upon a gradual accumulation of glances, marks and whispers. There are diagrams, sketches, scribbles, collages and lyrics to pore over. Perhaps the only regrets lie in the thick, glossy paper stock (it should, rather, be textured and dog-eared) and that the emblematic tearing of the spyhole on the front cover remains printed and not physically pierced into the cover itself. Perhaps this latter is something to supply yourself.

Oh and by the way, my defenses have been worn away and I’ve sort of, kind of come to love Kristin Anna Valtysdottir’s voice now.
Colin Buttimer
July 2004
Published by Absorb