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August 27th, 2003 Cori Taratoot | Music Stories
 

Off the Grid

Iceland ether-popsters Mśm take electronic music and ground it with tradition.

     
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Mśm's …rvar Th-reyjarson Sm‡rason is on a Brooklyn rooftop riding a power-grid high. The Big Blackout may have knocked out NYC, but the Icelander sounds gleeful--in a subdued sort of way. "I liked it. It was very fun. We walked over to Brooklyn. Maybe it took three or four hours? First we drove around and got in traffic messes which was also fun. A very good New York experience."

The failure of technology had postponed our conversation. Now the power of nature--in the form of a looming rainstorm--threatens it. Interrupted by drizzle and cell-phone disconnections, Sm‡rason riffs persistently about what it means to be a low-pitched band touring a high-pitched America. As one would expect from creators of contemplative and subliminal ethereal laptop-pop, Mśm's members take time to think about the world around them and contemplate its desperate state. But don't expect to hear it in their music.

"I wish that we were some kind of a political band," says Sm‡rason. "I wish I could say we were here to wake somebody up. Maybe our music does wake people up. I don't know."

Since the geopolitical chaos seems impossibly untouchable, Sm‡rason focuses on the little things, like finding a nice quiet place for him and his Mśm-mates to play.

"Do you know where we're playing in Portland?" he asks. Berbati's, I tell him. "Is there a bar?" Yes, I say. "Oh, that's crap," he spits in accented English. "We're playing very quiet music. Maybe we'll get them to close the bar down. Just while we're playing. We're gonna check."

Even without booze (an unlikely scenario), concert-goers will be intoxicated. The trio blend a narcotic laptop-acoustic swirl: glockenspiel, melodica, accordion (to name only a few) on top of low-key electronic blip-bleeps. Think fellow Icelanders Sigur R-s with a bouncy kick in their step, or the subtle neurological journeys of Scotland's ambient IDMers Boards of Canada. Mśm's 2002 release Finally We Are No One points to a band willing to stretch limits, to move out of a purely electronic sound and lean more into folk and pop elements, stringed instruments and mortal voices.

Rooting its sound in more traditional instrumentation probably isn't a bad idea for Mśm, since technology sometimes just isn't reliable. As Sm‡rason vents about the U.S. troops in Iceland, a thundering boom smacks our connection. His voice, animated, cursing in his native tongue, fades out. Conversation over.

Mśm plays Wednesday, Aug. 27, at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. Animal Collective opens. 9:30 pm. $12. 21+.

 
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