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When you think of Iceland and music, the natural image that rolls up on the mental screen saver is that of Bjork, the eccentric siren of the north. But despite retaining a warm spot as the queen of Icelandic pop, the mantle of current rock relevance goes to two bands that have made some of the most interesting music - in or outside of Iceland - in recent years: minimalist post-rockers Sigur RÃ³s and the warm and friendly experimental pop of mÃºm (with a lower-case 'm' and pronounced moom).
The seven-piece band from Reykjavik, which formed in 1997, has been regularly mesmerizing listeners around the world with their mix of haunting, organic melodies which are embellished and fleshed out with an inventive wash of digital electronica and analog heart. Band founder Gunnar Ã–rn Tynes admitted that, while mÃºm has gained a loyal audience in the US and much of Europe, their star has not shone particularly brightly in their homeland.
"We're almost never played on the radio in Iceland, our base is around the world. Anything slightly alternative or out of the mainstream is a tough sell there," he told The Jerusalem Post.
"It's even an interesting thing with Bjork and the Sugarcubes who are considered the first big breakout artists here. They're definitely household names, but while everybody knows them, not so many people know the music. It's not like Bjork's the most popular artist, she's just the most famous."
Rather than gearing their music toward the pop charts, mÃºm has taken some interesting trails since the release of their debut album in 2000, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK. Side trips have included writing and performing their own soundtrack for the classic Sergei Eisenstein film, Battleship Potemkin, live performances of which have taken place in Iceland, New York and Spain, composing music for a radio play on Icelandic National radio which won the Nordic Radio-theater prize, and in 2005, collaborating with National Dutch Chamber Orchestra to create a performance piece based around various compositions of the late avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis.
Still when Tynes and the band's other chief songwriter Ã–rvar PÃ³reyjarson SmÃ¡rason got together to write music for mÃºm's new album, Sing Along to Songs You Don't Know, there was an identifiable thread that Tynes thinks fans of the band will recognize.
"I would like to believe that our music has followed a natural progression, but think that we approach our music creation in very much the same way we always have," he said, adding with a laugh, "We also know our instruments better now."
Fans can judge for themselves when mÃºm plays tonight at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv at 11 p.m.