Mum - Go Smear The Poison Ivy

Blessed Brambles, the album opener, mutates from a hesitant opening into a gloriously poppy tune with some rather strange lyrics. At least I think they sing about kissing the boys that pee into the mud.

Mum – Go Smear The Poison Ivy (Play It Again Sam)

 

As has oft been remarked: there must be something in the water in Iceland. As populations go they punch above their weight in most things. It's certainly no different when it comes to music. The Swedes and the Norwegians have rock and pop sealed up whilst Finland is currently the weird folk centre of Europe thanks to the remarkable Fonal label. And Iceland? Iceland continues to do what it has done for over a decade now – turning out left of centre music in whatever flavour you desire. Bjork for pop, Sigur Ros for rock, Johann Johannson for modern composition, Stafraenn Hakon for post rock... There are many others of course but few can claim to be as beguiling a proposition as Mum.

 

Having said that their most recent output has tended to disappoint. Their debut – Yesterday was Dramatic, Today is OK was a glorious record full of wonderful tunes and delicate, child-like arrangements. Follow up albums failed to capture the magic of their debut, and when their founder member and lead singer left (to work with Animal Collective's Avey Tare; the pair put out an album of songs played backwards) one might have thought Mum's number was up.

 

Far from it – Go Smear the Poison Ivy is their most satisfying collection of songs since their debut. The magic, I'm happy to report, has returned. With Mum the joy was always in the detail – the skittering and chattering that makes up the background to most of their songs. At times it sounds as though Mum are conducting an insect orchestra, and I mean this as a good thing. Their sound is a great mosaic that, at it's best, never sounds cluttered. And at times there are string quartets and choirs joining the beats and pianos and harps so this is quite an achievement.

 

All the textural stuff is fine and dandy but it's also the tunes that maketh the album and Go Smear the Poison Ivy is full of them. Blessed Brambles, the album opener, mutates from a hesitant opening into a gloriously poppy tune with some rather strange lyrics. At least I think they sing about kissing the boys that pee into the mud. Icelandic musicians are talented but they're invariably crackers with it. A Little Bit Sometimes starts with the sound of a ticking clock and chiming alarms. A piano and accordion join in and then there's the sound of some modern beats. It's a little bit Yann Tiersen sometimes, this track. Whilst many of the songs are richly textured they can also keep it simple, as on Moon Pulls, a simple and affecting song based largely around piano.

 

Marmalade Fires kicks off with harp and what sounds like a harmonica (but couldn't be, surely?). As well as the insect chattering there are beats and brass and incomprehensible singing, the only words that I could detect being those of the title. And then there's the string quartet too, serenading the harp at the end of the track. Lovely. Penultimate song Guilty Rocks is a belter – imagine a classic John Barry track re-imagined as a modern Icelandic operatic pop song and you might have some idea of how good it is. And whilst Guilty Rocks is a highlight the album is remarkably consistent. There's no filler on the twelve tracks that make up Go Smear the Poison Ivy.  The artwork's great too.

 

Words: Chris Dawson