Julianna Barwick – One Half

Julianna Barwick has returned with the single ‘One Half’. Off the forthcoming Icelandic influenced Nepenthe, the lead video offers a shift in style and an interesting interpretation of personal duality. The two halves of Julianna’s self occupy vastly different places; one in a halogen lit empty car park and the other in a lush, surreal forest populated by a psychedelic cake. The song, while utilizing the same looping ambiance, uses discernible vocals as elements in the layers. They’re structural, less as lyrics to tell a story but an functional part of the tonal whole. It’s charming, etherial as always, but somewhat grounded by the tangible english.

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The whole album isn’t as different as ‘One Half’, with much the rest of the album remaining true to what you’d expect from Barwick’s shimmering vocals. A few tracks feel heavily influenced by the Icelandic recording location, the hand of producer Alex Somers and cameos by members of local heavyweights Mum & Amiina. ‘Pyrrhic’ feels the most imbued by the land, built out of sighing strings, high choral vocals and an enveloping ascending melody akin to Sigur Ros’s finer moments. The album on the whole works, both newly arrived elements and familiar ones.

You can stream Nepenthe over at NPR Music. You can also pre-order the album via SC Distribution. First run of the vinyl comes in a limited edition gold and includes a poster worthy of the Icelandic tourism board.

BEST ALBUM OF ’07: mum – go go smear the poison ivy

My favorite album of last year didn’t end up on many, if any, best of lists. Múm’s return to the scene with Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy is a stylistic departure for the band. Gone is childish cooing of Kristin Valtysdottir and in her place are two new ear friendly female vocalists. The album leans away charmingly from a reliance on the core electronic elements that defined the Múm sound and integrates more live instrumentation. The resulting shift in the formula works and makes Múm a more successful band.

I bought tickets to the LA stop of their smallish U.S. tour based solely on a listen to their 2002 Peel Session: the 4 track EP, which later found a proper release in 2007, that left me absolutely confused. The live reproductions of their studio heavy glitch-pop were so crystal clear that they sounded nearly impossible. I wasn’t even aware of Valtysdottir’s departure, though the show I later saw far exceeded any of my expectations. Her childish coo was interesting, but slightly off putting. I loved the band despite her, but I think shifting the focus to something outwardly palatable will help the band in the long run.

In some way, I rate an album’s quality on the basis of how quickly I want to listen to it again. Many times I’d wander my way down the winding, curious road that is Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy and immediately be ready to listen again. Plucking songs at random didn’t cut it, as the full flow of the album from the bounce and skitter of “Blessed Brambles” to the crisp moonlight of the album closer “Winter (We Never Were After All)” was necessary to truly consume.

Now, I’d also bet that some people would argue that an excellent album should function both as single tracks and as a coherent whole, but I don’t totally agree. In an world that relies less and less on the concept of the ‘album’ as a fixed experience, the accomplishment in the cohesiveness of Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy should be noted.

I also know full well that the quirk this album embodies isn’t for everyone. The hallucinogenic haze that rests over every track might drive the uninitiated right up a wall and out the window. I find a frozen charm in the layered harmonies of the three singers, giving the music a completely unique identity. I imagine this album to be a good soundtrack to life in a snowglobe.

Múm’s quirky nature mixes with a kind of unbridled joy that many other albums hardly come close to. Backed with their nearly overwhelming live show, I give a lot of appreciation to a band that can emerge after 3 years with a whole new formula and create something that topped the previous heights of their back catalog.

Purchase at Insound

label – Fat Cat Records
myspace – www.myspace.com/mumtheband
video – They Made Frogs Smoke Till They Exploded
a fantastic live bootleg from nyctaper

[audio:http://www.takingtigermountain.com/audio/Múm_MarmaladeFires.mp3]
‘Blessed Brambles’
from 2007’s Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy
[audio:http://www.takingtigermountain.com/audio/Múm_ScratchedBicyclesmellMemory.mp3]
‘Scratched Bicycle/Smell Memory’
from 2002’s The Peel Session