Release Date: Jun 9, 2015
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Folk, Chamber Pop
Review Summary: Out of the spotlight, into the heart.It’s only natural to want to dismiss Beneath The Skin at first. It’s plodding and bare compared to the band’s outwardly joyous debut My Head Is An Animal, which placed Of Monsters and Men on the map back in 2012. Their lighthearted identity has been scrapped in favor of somber atmospheres and dark secrets – traits not necessarily suitable for a band that regularly references animals and shouts hey! an average of nine time per song.
Of Monsters And Men’s 2011 debut ‘My Head Is An Animal’ was a cry for attention. Those “Hey!’s” that drive the gargantuan smash of ‘Little Talks’ are just one of many instances that saw the five-piece from Iceland standing on the shore of their home, looking at the horizon and wanting to be noticed. And while ‘Beneath The Skin’ was written within the same geographical confides, it sees Of Monsters And Men finding both the pain and the beauty within.
Of Monsters and Men's second studio album, Beneath the Skin, is further proof that the Icelandic music movement is a near-unstoppable force. The follow-up to 2011's My Head is an Animal is just as polished, soothing, and captivating as its chart-topping predecessor. (www.ofmonstersandmen.com).
Specializing in a cinematic spectacle that evokes wide-open vistas as much as the fathomless depths of an arena, Of Monsters and Men sometimes do sound as majestic as their dreams on Beneath the Skin, pulsating on the waves of insistent rhythms and armies of acoustics. Such a description suggests they hew closely to the Mumford & Sons stomp -- and that does surface occasionally, usually as a forgotten memory, not a rhythm; it's a counterpoint, not a focus -- but the sextet prefers the operatic bombast of Arcade Fire. Where Win Butler and comrades prefer to address big issues with their big music, Of Monsters and Men turn inward, marrying their soundscapes to tales of introspection and romance.
Of Monsters and Men's sophomore release, Beneath the Skin, is in essence a remake of their debut, My Head Is An Animal, but with a focus shift from forest creatures and shining seas to dark and woeful themes. It's a marriage of poetic regret with heavy Brothers Grimm-like imagery. The record has a handful of eerie lyrical moments ("Eat me like a cannibal," "So I take off my face because it reminds me how it all went wrong"), an obsession with wolves and a cacophonous crescendo at the end of "Thousand Eyes" that is sure to induce anxiety.Beneath the Skin starts off well enough, with the first three songs, particularly the single "Crystal," showcasing OMAM's trademark lush instrumentation paired with great vocal melodies and harmonies.
Of Monsters and Men launched their career through 2010’s edition of Músíktilraunir – Reykjavik’s annual battle of the bands – but you’d be forgiven if you thought the Icelandic folk rockers simply emerged from the forest one day because of their continued reliance on lyrical themes of animals, the wilderness, and the inherent fierceness associated with both. Co-vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, in an interview with Rolling Stone, promised that the differences between Of Monsters and Men’s first record, 2011’s My Head Is an Animal, and their sophomore effort, Beneath The Skin, are “black and white – they’re pretty polar opposite. ” Listening to the new record, this does not seem to be the case.
The population of Iceland currently stands at just under 330,000. Just to put this figure in perspective, that’s about the same as the population of Wakefield. With apologies to The Cribs and errr… Jane McDonald, it is probably not unreasonable to suggest that the respective contributions of the two prove that, per head, Iceland is the most successful musical nation on the planet.
Animal-headed Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson return as the creative and vocal forces pulling Of Monsters And Men into 2015 with their second album Beneath The Skin. It’s much darker, contains about an equal number of wolves but far fewer bingley-bongley acoustic guitars. The traditional view of the Icelandic is that of a people plunged into prolonged darkness - leaving them plenty of time to contemplate solitude, the self and the snow.
Surely someday, Of Monsters and Men, the successful, melodic pop band from Iceland, will actually burrow beneath the skin and reveal genuine depth, but the pleasures of this, their second record, remain mostly on the surface. Fortunately, they’ve buffed up the production, adding dimension to the acoustic pop of their lightweight, at times twee 2012 debut, “My Head Is an Animal.” With shards of electric guitar and tremors of distortion providing some teeth, the songs are still preoccupied with gauzy imagery, as allusions to nature and animals intimate mystery and profundity. The best tracks explore heartache, anger, and loneliness directly, peeling back the layers of pretension to find the humanity.
The building intensity of lead-off track Crystals suggests the dreaded sophomore slump isn't an issue for Of Monsters and Men. Whereas their debut presented hooky, buoyant "woh-oh" orch pop, darker forces are at work here. Songs like Human begin from murkier places but grow to intense sonic orgasms. They do stick to that formula a bit too rigidly: the first half is uniform in its patterned builds, and back-to-back tracks like Hunger and Wolves Without Teeth aren't very distinguishable.