Release Date: Apr 3, 2012
Record label: Republic
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Folk, Chamber Pop, Alternative Folk
This Icelandic six-piece pull off a neat trick: They make whimsical sound tough. Their debut is full of familiar indie-pop gestures: wintry, finger-picked guitars; lyrics full of woodsy imagery; tunes that swell into campfire-style singalongs. But Of Monsters and Men put muscle behind their prettiness, turning songs from cute to grand, and their dippy hippie-isms – "The forest of talking trees, they used to sing about the birds and the bees" – sound mysterious, and vaguely menacing.
Of Monsters and MenMy Head is an Animal[Universal Republic; 2012]By Ace Ubas; April 4, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG"Beautiful," "majestic," and "inspiring" are terms that can easily characterize the country of Iceland. It can also accurately describe the music that emanates from it. Need evidence? Then look no further than Sigur Rós and Björk – Iceland’s leading pioneers of the native music scene for more than a decade.
After taking SXSW by storm, Of Monsters and Men hit the US top 10, a feat that has eluded fellow Icelanders Björk and Sigur Rós. The reasons for their success are simple: terrific songs that combine the folky with the epic, and instantly infectious choruses big on "la la la"s and "hey hey"s. Delivering these songs using everything from glockenspiels to Motown drums, chants and stomping feet, they turn campfire singalongs into skyscraping anthems, the contrast between male and female vocalists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson making them sound something like a fusion of Cyndi Lauper, the Cardigans and Arcade Fire.
It’s about a six-hour flight from the East Coast of the United States to Reykjavík, Iceland, the hometown of up and coming sextet Of Monsters and Men. And the band’s debut album is like that moment during such a transatlantic flight where travelers realize that the journey is just a little bit too long, but ultimately worthwhile. Formed in Reykjavík in 2009 out of the remnants of individual members’ former solo projects, Of Monsters and Men has been a local favorite in their home country since winning a nationwide battle of the bands—Músiktilraunir—in 2010.
Of Monsters and Men's 2012 full-length debut, My Head Is an Animal, features more of the Icelandic band's acoustic-driven alt-rock featured on their 2011 EP Into the Woods. Showcasing the dual singer/guitarist/songwriters Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Pórhallsson, the album also displays the six-piece ensemble's grand and anthemic style with a bent toward passionate folk-rock uplift and more layered, introspective moments. In that sense, the band brings to mind the work of such similarly inclined contemporaries as Arcade Fire, Angus & Julia Stone, and Mumford & Sons.
Huge stars in their native Iceland, raggle-taggle rockers Of Monsters and Men have what it takes to achieve the same success in Britain, combining as they do Arcade Fire's exuberance and Mumford & Sons' undemanding take on folk. And yet for all the wide-eyed charm of its finest songs – recent single Dirty Paws is electrifying – the sextet's debut album is too empty to excite, its odder, quieter moments all but smothered by windy rock. A shame, because in vocalists Nanna and "Raggi", Of Monsters and Men boast Iceland's own Kim Deal and Frank Black.
It’s hardly a secret that Iceland has been responsible for producing some seriously good artists over the years. They might not come along all that often - but when they do, it’s usually something quite special. Step forward Of Monsters And Men, the latest musical export to emerge from Iceland’s volcanic shores.Following on from their first single ‘Dirty Paws’ and, more recently, ‘Little Talks’, it seems that this troupe have wormed their way into the hearts of more or less everybody who has encountered them.
This belated UK debut makes clear that Of Monsters and Men are no one-hit wonders. Mike Haydock 2012 Of Monsters and Men have enjoyed considerable UK radio play in the middle of 2012 – but the truth is, Britain, that we’ve been slow on the uptake. This Icelandic six-piece have already conquered their homeland, vast swathes of continental Europe and, most impressively, that elusive US market: My Head Is an Animal hit number six in the Billboard chart back in April.