BEARD-SCRATCHERS, KEEP OUT!

BEARD-SCRATCHERS, KEEP OUT!

Hot times with Mum in the city

Empty Bottle, Chicago, 7/18

Johnny Loftus

By the time Mum took the stage at Chicago’s Empty Bottle this past Thursday, the backs of the necks of 300 hipsters were dirty and gritty. And at the Bottle, the only air conditioning you can find is the ice-cold PBR in your hand.

Mum is electronicists Gunnar Orn Tynes and Orvar Poreyjarson Smarason with twin sisters Kristin Anna and Gyda Valtysdottir, whose frail vocal melodies lend the music a diaphanous quality. But no one in Mum is just the singer, or only the keyboardist. Melodica, cello, bass, electric guitar, and a stack of assorted Casios are passed around on stage so much that the mechanics of watching a band live break down, and the viewer is left with only the sound. It’s not possible to simply watch one person perform; chances are, by the next or even the middle of the song, he or she will be on the opposite end of the stage tapping notes into a completely different instrument. The Icelandic quartet has been making gentle waves of the sort previously washed ashore by Sigur Ros. While the two groups share a homeland, Mum’s dynamic isn’t as deliberate as SR; Mum songs behave like pieces of a lyric poem, revealed piece by piece as the night goes on. And you know you like the story, even if you don’t understand some of the words.

Maybe it was the heat. But by the middle of Mum’s set, a videotape loop had formed in my head of something I’ve never seen. As a melodica traced out a simple melody over a slightly unsettling bottom end of bass and electronic rumbles, the reception flickered and popped, eventually forming an image beneath the curtain of static and color bars. Through the electronic haze (and the humidity and stink of sweaty hipster in the club), the images described in “Green Grass of Tunnel” (from the new Finally We Are No One) began to transmit. A swampy tunnel, dripping water, swimming through darkness with your eyes closed. “The song takes place in this valley with a swimming pool and they are sending music to everyone in the world through the tunnel,” Kristin Valtysdottir has said of the song’s theme. And that’s not too far off from the images that formed in the steamy air around my head Thursday night. It’s evocations like this that define Mum’s music, beyond clichés like their being from Iceland, their similarities to other “European”-style electronica, or Kristin and Gyda’s appearance as cover stars for Belle & Sebastian’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant.

But the beard-scratchers were definitely in attendance for Mum, evocative atmospherics or not. You know the beard-scratchers. It’s a sub-category of music fan that bleeds into all genres, but seems to gather at electronic music shows featuring skinny, articulated men on stage, keeled over sampling units and PowerBooks. And as the man on stage continues to build his bed of white noise, stopping occasionally to scream nonsense into a microphone, or bring someone from Norway or Germany onstage to blow incomprehensible noise into a series of horns, the beard-scratchers will nod their heads and chat to their friends about their latest “project.” While the beard-scratchers have certainly extended the careers of many the experimental music artist out there, their counterfeit appreciation of music – which is essentially grandstanding to determine who’s the hippest, most “down” cat in the room – can tarnish the work of an electronic-based band that’s actually worth the money. Luckily, it was too hot for beards Thursday night.

Mum’s subdued beats and lilting vocals are an acquired taste. But their mixture of traditional instrumentation with ultra-modern automation and sampling is certainly worth hearing, if only for the transitory moment when it suggests something otherworldly in your head.

JTL

14 thoughts on “BEARD-SCRATCHERS, KEEP OUT!”

  1. Is this article about beard scratchers or music? Sounds like you know enough about these mythical beings to actually be one..are you? Maybe it’s your imagination? How does one pretend to enjoy music anyway? How does one classify a hipster without knowing how to be one? Sounds like you’re a closet beard scratcher with a shave. Mum is great. Sigur Ros is great but, I found out on my own, not from a hipster tribe.

  2. i really liked the part about “casios being passed around on stage” and mum’s dynamic energy as a group… a very interesting observation. i made sure to pass your review around! mum in LA! eeee!

  3. Mike,Our hipster tribe is about to conquer your lame-ass country. Get ready for our pillaging, bitch.Johnny, despite obviously being a mutant, I liked the review. Great sense of the show and certainly piqued my interest in Mum. Crank it up in the GLONO office next time I’m around.

  4. Not a bad review… I’m growing a beard and it does itch quite a bit… does that make me a beard scratcher??? Oh well, either way I’m going to see mum play tonight in Orlando… I can’t wait! It should be a good time and I expect the music will be very beautiful. Thanks for the review!

  5. Beard-scratchers are lame-ass wankers. They really are twats, thanks Johnny Loftus for giving them a good swift kick in the arse.

    PS Oval are wankers and so are Godspeed.

  6. why search for lyrics? just listen closely and write it down yourself. it’s not THAT hard…

    anyway, enjoy ;)

    Mùm – Green Grass Of Tunnel

    Down from my ceiling

    Drips great noise

    It drips on my head through a hole in the roof

    Behind these two hills here…

    There’s a pool

    And when i’m swimming

    In through a tunnel

    I shut my eyes

    Inside the cabin

    I make sounds

    In through the tubes i send this noise

    Behind these two hills here…

    Fall asleep

    And when i float in

    Green grass of tunnel

    It flows back

    Down from my ceiling

    Drips great noise

    It drips on my head through a hole in the roof

    Behind these two hills here…

    There’s a pool

    And when i’m swimming

    In through a tunnel

    I shut my eyes

  7. This is a great piece of art.. not even music, i call it art!

    And if you like Múm, you should try out kettel, also nice music

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