It’s a rare pleasure to hear Icelandic musicians performing in Chicago. On Wednesday (Oct. 28), the Logan Square Auditorium hosted not just one, not just two, but three Icelandic acts. The headliners were one of the island nation’s better-known bands, Múm (pronounced “moom”), who are touring in support of their new album, the delightfully titled Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know. Actually, most of the songs they played were ones that I did know — including a lot from that new CD, which is one of the best that Mum has ever made.
When Múm began in 1997, the group was known for making electronic music with subtle textures. I enjoyed that music, and I’m sure there are fans out there who prefer it to Múm’s more recent recordings, but some of that early stuff was so chilled-out and low-key that it barely ever stuck in my mind afterward. Seeing Múm in concert, however, was a revelation, with more emphasis on the singing. Everything felt more organic and natural. There’s more of that feeling on recent records, including Sing Along…. There are some precious moments when Múm gets a little too cute for its own good, but then there are sublime hymn-like harmonies, when it sounds like this is a bunch of Icelanders getting together in a little room somewhere and singing to their heart’s content. Actually, that is exactly what it is.
And that’s what we were treated to on Wednesday, too. The mix of instruments included Melodica, cello, violin plus the usual keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. There wasn’t too much of the tinkly techno textures from the early Múm records, but there was a lot of joyous singing. In the final song of the main set, one of the band’s friends (a roadie? I’m not sure) came onstage and held up signs with the lyrics to the title song about singing along. It was a perfect way of summing up Múm’s communal spirit. http://mum.is
Singer, cellist and violinist Hildur Guðnadóttir was perhaps the liveliest presence on the stage during the Múm set, making sweeping gestures and opening her mouth as wide as she could to deliver the choruses. Guðnadóttir was also the first act of the night, playing an impressive set of her compositions on cello. She asked for quiet from the audience, and got it. Check out her music at www.hildurness.com. A free mp3 of her song “Erupting Light” is here.
The middle act on the bill was another noteworthy Icelandic group. It was the first Chicago appearance by Sin Fang Bous, the stage name for Sindri Mar Sigfusson, who’s also lead singer of the Icelandic band Seabear. Both of these bands play tuneful folk-pop, though the new album by Sin Fang Bous, Clamour, gives the songs more of a psychedelic or experimental sheen, with an eclectic variety of twinkly sounds livening up the songs. The live show featured less of that nuanced sound, with more emphasis on Sigfusson’s voice and acoustic guitar chords. Although the concert lacked all the glittering surfaces you hear on the record, it was still a good, heartfelt performance, and I look forward to seeing Sigfusson with Seabear if they show up in Chicago someday. (Maybe after they released their next planned album in 2010?) www.myspace.com/sinfangbous