When I first heard of the Icelandic band, Of Monsters and Men, the first thing I thought of was John Steinbeck’s book, Of Mice and Men, followed immediately by the thought of a group sitting somewhere in a cave with fur coats on. I’m not sure why the latter came into mind. The band released their first album, My Head is An Animal, on April 3rd, and I had the pleasure of seeing them live the night before at Black Cat. The debut album is absolutely amazing and personally reminds me of a weird mix between Arcade Fire and The Head and the Heart, except happier (sort of).
The opening act of the concert, Lay Low, a solo act featuring Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir and her guitar, was impressive with a mix of English and Icelandic tunes that managed to grab the crowd’s attention. That being said, however, its safe to say everyone was there for Of Monsters and Men, which was surprising given that the band had yet to release to debut album in the US. Of Monsters and Men consists of co-singers and guitarists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson, piano/accordion player Árni Guðjónsson, and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson. Together the sextet create beautiful melodies that are not easily forgotten. Both vocalists have absolutely amazing voices with my personal favorite being the female vocalist, for more than one reason. And though the group only played for about an hour, which to be honest was disappointing, the atmosphere was great and almost all the songs on the new album were played.
Now for the album itself. While the music is beautiful and captivating, it is at the same time, very cliche. The band manages to capture emotions perfectly and transfer them to its listeners while maintaining a very upbeat folk/pop tune, which many other groups are not able to accomplish. Bands with similar lyrics and emotions, such as The Head and the Heart, tend to have slower, less upbeat music when compared to Of Monsters and Men. Here the band is successful in mixing lyrics that can cause one to cry, with beautiful joyful melodies. However, all of this is accomplished by using cliche indie techniques such as guy-girl duets, back-up vocals, and very baroque musical arrangements which makes the group a cathartic version of many prior indie bands. While there are songs that slow things down and try to remove the baroque arrangements such as Slow and Steady, Love Love Love, and Yellow Light, eventually these build up into a symphony of noise like the rest of the album. At times, it seems the album is a little too happy, especially when the lyrics demand a slower, more intimate/personal melody. Criticism aside, the album is beautiful and recommended songs include Mountain Sound, Slow and Steady, From Finner, Little Talks, Six Weeks, Love Love Love, and pretty much the rest of the album as well. For a debut album, Of Monsters and Men proved themselves as an up-and-coming band, creating a following well before they even released their first album.
-Umar Khan, host of Coupon Smell, Thursday Nights/Friday Mornings 1-2 AM.