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Early Birds

múm were formed in the late 90s by Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason and they now have a reverential reputation in the electronic music world. They have stated that the studio is a somewhat sterile environment, so to keep the recording process exciting and vibrant they have travelled widely throughout Europe, capturing anything and everything that has taken their fancy - field recordings and snatches of rhythms and melodies. These recordings have then been mashed into a variety of emotive, atmospheric pieces, broken apart again and re-assembled in a totally different way. The initial rhythms are produced on old analog drum machines and synths for a rich, warm sound. These sit next to the newer, 'modern' rhythms that are more complex and have a much colder feel, though they are equally suited to the different moods of the various pieces.

Early Birds is made up of 15 demo or limited edition tracks from between 1998 and 2000, but rather than merely being a collection of odds 'n' sods found down the back of their settee, this is a delightful insight into a couple of friends discovering the limits and possibilities of their sonic soundscapes. A series of forks in the road are followed, developed, then dropped, before mutating into themes and rhythms.

The album opens with a piano and female spoken voice at what sounds like a break in a rehearsal. An urgent electronic rhythm then bursts in before fading out of the mix. Delicate harmonica is introduced before the original rhythm reappears and the track develops in this dub fashion with electronic squeaks and bleeps and scratchy beats surfacing, then being snatched away or submerged beneath new sounds. It is a fascinating cut-up of instrumentation, styles and found sounds that are seamlessly woven together.

Although this will be filed under electronic, there are frequent passages of an undeniably folky origin, especially when a cello, accordion or glockenspiel comes to the fore. This mix of traditional and modern instrumentation blends perfectly and results in these warm, melancholic songs. Melodies are subtle and restrained, rhythms start and stop, then are lost in the ether. Vocals are infrequent, but float in and out, though they are rarely more than breathless whispers.

Over the years, line-up changes have been regular occurrences, and this necessary creative upheaval will continue, but the core duo has remained, steadfastly fusing their disparate musical and non-musical influences into creating contemporary chamber music. The breadth of their ambition and scope is astonishing; they have even recorded songs specifically to be heard underwater.

For anyone with even a passing interest in electronic music, this album is essential. So much music is po-faced and precious, rigidly conforming to certain expected standards, but these songs soar with invention and unexpected, inexplicable joy.