laugardagur, desember 13, 2008

Top 100 Artists of the Decade @ betterPropaganda: #93 múm - #20 Sigur Rós

We couldn't run a 5th anniversary retrospective without some sort of commentary on our favorite artists and albums in recent memory. We decided to contain our lists to this decade - 2000 to the present is compact enough to feel relevant to our organization's history, but stretches far enough back to include the artists who inspired us to start a site like betterPropaganda in the first place.
Nominating, ordering and solidifying the lists was nothing less than a loving clusterfuck of a process. After dumping all of our favorites into a spreadsheet, we shifted to wallpapering our office with a couple hundred post-it notes, arranged and (sometimes sneakily) rearranged from 1-100 over the course of a few months. The result is a pair of countdowns marked by eclecticism and charming quirks, entries which would be ten or twenty or forty positions higher than on other, safer lists. It is, we feel, more compelling than other countdowns of its ilk - we have avoided favoring the drudgery of rigid democracy and diplomacy that would have stamped out the sense of individualism that defines betterPropaganda.
In selecting our top 100 artists and albums of the decade, we kept our eye on cultural and musical distinctiveness (yes, it's subjective - we know), innovation, longevity, and influence in the industry. Of course, in arguing for our favorites, we turned toward any number of intangibles, and in the end we went with our gut. It was a process driven by frequent spars, plenty of well-intentioned but biting sarcasm, a couple booze-fueled marathon ordering sessions, and - owing to our love of the music - a desire to get things just right. We're happy with the result.
#93 múm
múm is basically strange and skewed childhood wonder in a bottle. In fact, the opening of their first proper full-length (Yesterday Was Dramatic - Today Is OK) seems to declare their philosophy outright: it's called "I'm 9 Today", and it forefronts tinkling bells, jittery playground laughter, toy pianos, and a whole host of other sounds designed to evoke, you know, nine-hood. It turned into their hallmark sound: strange, convoluted and glitchy electronic tracks, which play like cutscenes through the eyes of a child who knows no other state but the state of innocence.
That isn't to say that múm deserves any of the following labels: 1) poppy, 2) substanceless, 3) simple, 4) naive. Ah yes, their discography is riddled with moments of darkness and melancholy. It's just that these moments are presented through the scope of youthful optimism - perhaps a simple consciousness teetering on the fringe of maturity. For instance, "Asleep on a Train" pulses like the vague concept of an outlaw rattling around in a toddler's brain - and the concept is drowned to a hum (but still present) behind the immediate (self-involved) longing for a nap or a cup of hot chocolate for dessert. It's all backwards, and to great effect: the sweet simplicity's up front, but a pressing eeriness lurks somewhere right behind it. In fact, maybe that's the only way to summarize this music collective: everything they put out leans on a sorted of sleighted complexity, a situation or mood cast in a sideways light, always warm and inviting, and always accompanied with a heartbreaking wink of the eye.
They have been fiercely consistent over the years, using toy instruments, found sounds, field recordings, drum machines and traditional instruments to create a catalog that is equal parts balanced, prolific and varied. It is this delicate and unexpected treatment of electronic music that lands múm the #93 spot on this list.
#20 Sigur Rós
When talking about Sigur Rós and their music, it seems impossible to refrain from mentioning the band’s home country of Iceland, the orchestral grandeur, and the cinematic quality, but I’m going to give it a shot: Sigur Rós creates breathtaking, orchestral pieces that recall the opulent and vast landscapes of Iceland as seen through a wide-angle movie camera lens. Fuck.
The difficulty in describing Sigur Rós lies in the fact that they are virtually peerless. You’d be a lying bastard if you said you’d heard of a band like them before. Because of this lack of reference points, we end up having to use adjectives like “swirling” and pair them with objects like “glaciers” in a contrived attempt to describe the music - Listening to Sigur Rós is like being inside a swirling glacier...? Lame. The point is, it’s an arduous task articulating what’s so great about the group’s music when one of its defining characteristics is the ability to render you speechless. You just have to listen to it.
It’s ironic that the most human aspect of the music, Jonsi Birgisson’s voice, contributes so much to the otherworldly, ethereal quality that permeates most of Sigur Rós’ songs. His falsetto doesn’t really front the music as much as it becomes inextricably tied to the massive wash of sound that the band produces. His vocals ebb and flow in and out of the swelling strings, bowed guitars, horns, and piano figures before being swallowed by the band’s trademark rapturous crescendos.
Just when we had them pegged as enigmatic figures from Iceland who crafted moody, atmospheric epics, Sigur Rós came out with “Gobbledigook” off of this year’s "Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust" (translated as With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly), a buoyant number that employed manically strummed acoustic guitars, stomping percussion, and clipped chants that threw us for a loop. It, and the album on the whole, sounded like four guys joyously playing music together instead of mysterious elfin creatures who delivered it from on high. Whether carrying us into the heavens on the back of a titanic opus or keeping us tethered to the ground with more organic and intimate fare, Sigur Rós continues to coax the breath from our lungs while keeping our jaws on the floor.
- Kevin Na

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