Madrid's Mus offers plenty enigma on its first album, a moody and contemplative work that picks up where defunct etherealists Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance left off. Though the lyrics are sung in Asturian, a rare romance language spoken only in the northwestern part of the Iberian peninsula, many of these 12 tracks operate as mood-setting instrumentals, with gentle female vocals adding only dreamy, wordless cooing. Mus approaches its spare, classically tinged electronica as if landscaping a Zen garden: not a single note sounds extraneous or out of place, and each song is presented as cleanly as possible. Patient electronic percussion forms a latticework of beats, adorned with minimal doses of synthetic strings, spoken-word samples, and drifting, diminutive atmospherics.
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Through an uncluttered amalgam of textures, Mus constructs a stately villa with long hallways lined by marble figures. This economy of means leaves each composition with a simple, dignified air, thanks to the lonely, echoed piano notes on "Domina" or the shifting patterns of softly thumping drum machines and multitracked voices on "Avec Alfil." The threadbare "Duermete Flu del Alma" recalls trip-hop playfulness but in somber slow motion. The Asturian lyrics (almost Spanish but not quite) add an exotic twist, especially on the twee electropop of "El Que la na Puerta." Exploring a series of shifting, ambiguous passages, the alluring "Aurelia" pilots through a frozen fjord with Philip Glass as your captain. Captivating fare indeed, Mus (actually a collection of material from EPs released in 1997 and 1998, with a few new numbers tacked on) is ambient, lovely, and lavishly esoteric. In fact Mus' strange, slightly bent beauty is distinctive and memorable enough to beget a genre all its own.