Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 27, Múm, "We Have A Map Of The Piano"

Artist: Múm
Song: "We Have A Map Of The Piano"
Album: Finally We Are No One
Year: 2002

While no single musical approach can be seen as "easy" by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to producing quality sounds, it can be argued that it is within the sonic extremes where the most difficulty can be found.  That is to say, when an artist or band attempts to make very loud or exceptionally soft and delicate sounds, there is far less margin for error than when working in the "middle' or more common musical spaces.  Furthermore, due to the way that sounds move and play against one another, it is the quieter, almost ambient genre where some of the most stunning musical achievement can be found, as even the smallest mis-step by an artist can be easily heard.  This is why within the down-tempo or ambient styles of electronic music, when a performer "gets it right," it is both clear to the ear, as well as musically stunning, rarely losing its impact with repeated listenings.  However, the reality remains that such performers often operate far from the musical mainstream and it is this unfortunate circumstance that has kept the Icelandic group called Múm a bit of a secret to the music-loving public.  Working with some of the most fragile, yet outright gorgeous melodies and landscapes that have ever been created, the group has rarely sounded as perfect as what one can hear on their 2002 song, "We Have A Map Of The Piano."

Truth be told, the entirety of the Finally We Are No One album is exceptional, and the group rarely falls below the standard this song sets; and yet it is the combination of sounds and moods that pushes "We Have A Map of The Piano" slightly above the other tracks.  One of the keys that also places this track apart from most other ambient-style songs is the fact that it is not based around a repetitive drum pattern; and it is this reality that in many ways places Múm in a category all their own.  The slow, almost meandering bassline and seems to sway behind the song is without question the driving force, and it is the way that the rest of the instrumentation plays along with this backbone that crafts the song into such a hypnotic masterpiece.  While the rather unique percussive sound certainly gives "We Have A Map Of The Piano" its pace, it is the chirps and other small sound effects that command greater attention, almost reducing the percussion to the sound of a run-out groove on an old vinyl record.  It is also what sounds to be a harmonium that plays across the track which gives it a great deal of depth, and yet it is the song's namesake, which comes into focus during the latter stages of the track, that lends a dark, almost mysterious feel to the overall musical work.  The way that each of these sounds are able to create a very full and engrossing musical landscape, yet remain very delicate from end to end is all the proof one needs to understand the exceptional talents found within the members of Múm.

However, one clear aspect that sets "We Have A Map Of The Piano" apart from much of the groups' catalog is the fact that there are vocals throughout a majority of the piece.  Often times, it is when an ambient-style group decides to include vocals that the potential greatness of the song in question is completely lost; and yet in this case, it manages to add the ideal finishing touch to both the mood and flow of the track.  It is the fact that at some level, the lyrics become almost inconsequential, as it is the way that her voice slides through and around the music that makes "We Have A Map Of The Piano" move from soothing and soft to outright mesmerizing.  In every sense of the word, the vocals found on this track are the epitome of what it means for a voice to become an instrument onto itself, and it way it blends in with the other elements of the song is nothing short of stunning.  At the same time, it is within the words she sings that one can fully understand and appreciate the rather "Earthy" and artsy statement the group is attempting to make, as the lyrics suggest a common sound between a piano, and the sounds created by moving water.  It is this connection to the natural world, as well as the moving, yet somehow motionless appeal of water that gives the song even greater depth, finishing off the entirety of a masterful musical achievement.

Though many way wish it to be untrue, the fact of the matter is that certain parts of the world have shown a far greater understanding and ability to perform specific styles of music.  Whether it is the darker side of metal being at its finest in Scandinavia, or the reality that hip-hop music is rarely better than what can be found across the United States, one can find countless examples of this truth.  Along these lines, there is no question that when it comes to creative, ambient sounds, Iceland certainly has a stronghold on the finest examples, with both Múm and Björk standing high atop the list.  It is the way that they are both able to find unique ways to create sonic textures, rarely making two songs that sound similar; and yet there is always a beautiful consistency to their songs.  In the case of Múm, their musical creations are far more delicate than those of almost any other group on the planet, and the fact that they are able to deliver with such regular levels of exceptional work is a testament to their abilities.  The fact of the matter is, their entire Finally We Are No One album flows perfectly from track to track, and it is the sort of record from which each person can cite their own personal favorite song for a wide range of reasons.  Yet there is no question that to understand everything that makes then such a phenomenal group, one need look no further than Múm's dazzling 2002 song, "We Have A Map Of The Piano."

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