RH in London: Gyða Valtýsdóttir & múm at Union Chapel

Thanks to a myriad of happy circumstances and coincidences, I found myself in the beautiful Union Chapel in London last Saturday night to see Icelandic glitch pop lovelies múm. The spotlights, fog machines, chunky speakers, and XLR cables juxtaposed with the chapel’s Gotchic embellishments provided a surprisingly fitting atmosphere for múm’s mishmash of electronic, folk, and pop sounds.

Opening was Gyða Valtýsdóttir, performing her haunting solo work. Having left the band after the release of Finally We Are No One to pursue a Masters in cello performance at Switzerland’s Musik Akademie, Valtýsdóttir has released two wonderfully wispy albums, Epicycle and Evolution. Clearly, her focus has paid off--playing while standing up, her movements and form were almost dance-like, her tone immaculate. Having played the cello (badly) for 8 years, I know how difficult it is to sound that good while looking so effortless. Her voice a fragile thread weaving through the blanket of sound emanating from her cello, Valtýsdóttir filled the chamber with an almost primeval gravity. During “Rock”, she unlocked the full tonal range of her cello, fingers bounding from harmonics just centimeters from her cello’s bridge up to the lowest notes on C.

Switching to guitar, Valtýsdóttir was joined by the rest of her bandmates for múm’s set. The chapel’s wonderful acoustics were a perfect match for their electroacoustic timbre, allowing each blip, buzz, and click to ring through without being drowned out by the heavier instruments. Opening with the wistful melodica of “The Land Between Solar Systems”, múm played a career-spanning set of their classics. Although claiming to have picked the setlist from a hat at random, the distribution was pretty spot-on: 4 and 3 from acclaimed fan-favorites Yesterday was Dramatic - Today is OK and Finally We Are No One respectively, and one or two each from the rest of their discography.

After some lighthearted joking about their age (“We’ve learned nothing in 20 years!”) and a broken bass string, the set reached a sublime crest with their performance of “There Is a Number of Small Things”. Layering meticulously programmed drums under marshmallow synths in triumphant counterpoint, múm’s crescendo reached heights that far exceeded the soft restraint of the studio version. Here, the hall’s acoustics shone through, lifting and shaping the flatness of the drum machine’s programmed jitter into an entity that bounced from surface to surface.

Ending unceremoniously without an encore, the soft-spoken Icelanders left the stage and a dazzled audience. I eagerly await the next time they stop by Boston.

James Gui is a DJ for the Record Hospital. His show is weekly on Thursday nights, from 10-12pm.