Of Monsters and Men garners large American fan base
By Julian Danziger, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012
For a country as small and seemingly obscure as Iceland, musicians from the little island sure have produced some pretty darn influential and cult-followed discographies. Although I’ve never been a fan of Bjork and her eclectic style, I guess I understand the bizarre appeal that brought her — and Icelandic music in general — extreme amounts of attention in the 1990s. Another well-known, band Sigur Ros, also from the Nordic European island, added a new element to the country’s worldwide musical influence through classically unique songs all sung in Icelandic. This year, the new indie folk band Of Monsters and Men has joined this slowly but surely growing Icelandic musicians’ club with the release of their debut album “My Head is an Animal,” released on April 3 in the United States.
The six-man group originated in Gardabaer, Iceland and gained popularity just two years ago by winning the annual Icelandic battle of the bands called Musiktilraunir. In Iceland, “My Head is an Animal” was released in September, quickly topping the Icelandic charts and eventually reaching number six on the U.S. Billboard 200. The album includes their most popular song and debut single, “Little Talks.”
Unlike Bjork or Sigur Ros, Of Monsters and Men has such an American influence that I barely believed they were from Iceland at first. They sing in pretty much perfect English, and on first listen they sound like an interesting mix of Bon Iver and The Hush Sound. Their sound has a strange element of familiarity that makes you feel as though they have been around forever.
“My Head is an Animal” is a whimsically upbeat album featuring the band’s lead singers Nanna Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar Porhallsson, who are backed up by the remaining talented musicians in Of Monsters and Men. The band’s use of varied instruments — many of which I don’t even know the names of — and dual vocals add a lot to the album, which at times feels a little stretched out and lacking structure. But at its best moments, it really is something special.
The popular track “Little Talks,” which was separately released as a single that broke onto the U.S. top 100 charts, is a fun example of the upbeat flightiness that Of Monsters and Men possess. It’s an incredibly catchy song that from the first trumpet solo has the listener rocking out with an “I-can-dig-this” mentality. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is not quite as whimsically fun, but at times it still shines.
There’s a disparity between the upbeat songs like “Little Talks” and the countless other slow and interestingly mellow jams such as “Yellow Light,” which, although great alone, don’t seem produce a cohesive album.
The second song on the album “King and Lionheart,” which is more mellow but incorporates some upbeat riffs, is actually my favorite song on “My Head is an Animal.” The track picks up about halfway through with the addition of the male vocals of Porhallsson. Every bit of prettiness, catchiness and whimsicality the album artfully possesses can be heard in this one song. It’s a great example of the talent and potential Of Monsters and Men possess.
Another fun element of the album is the somewhat hippie and earth-loving lyrics of each song, which are full of natural imagery and prose. The opening track on the album, “Dirty Paws,” a two-sided ode to the natural world and the animals that live in it, features some wonderfully mysterious and environmental lyrics. Hilmarsdottir sings, “Her dirty paws and furry coat, / she ran down the forest slope. / The forest of talking trees, / they used to sing about the birds and the bees.” If anyone can show me an indie folk lover that doesn’t dig an Icelandic band whimsically singing about the “forest of talking trees,” I’ll show you a liar.
I’d definitely recommend the better parts of “My Head is an Animal” to anyone who loves the laid-back and easy-listening indie folk sound. Of Monsters and Men is an awesome up-and-coming band from whom I expect great things, although listeners should be warned: If you’re expecting some Icelandic music that follows in the somewhat crazy steps of Bjork or Sigur Ros, you’ve come to the wrong place.