Of Monsters and Men, the Icelandic alternative folk-rock outfit, released their smashing debut album with Universal in the U.S. last month. Find out who they are, which songs to watch for, and why you don’t want to miss this album.
Of Monsters and Men is one of the most prominent break-out artists of the year. Having experienced wild success with their first single “Little Talks” previously this year, their album My Head Is An Animal was highly anticipated and was finally released in early April, to great applause from alternative-folk-rock lovers. Hailing from Iceland, where the ever-erratic Björk and ethereal Sigur Rós originated as well, the band attracted an American following when they championed a nation-wide Battle of the Bands (Músíktilraunir) in 2010. Of Monsters and Men caught the attention of Seattle radio station KEXP, with other alternative radio stations following suit. Currently, “Little Talks” is sweeping the alt-rock stations’ request lines by storm, and Of Monsters and Men has secured a record contract with Universal, who promised to release their album internationally.
The Unstoppable Six
Of Monsters and Men is a six-member band led by (and created by) Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, a soprano who sings with a delightfully wistful, slightly breathy tone, and plays guitar. She is featured with a male singer and guitar player, Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson. Raggi, who sings in the alto/tenor range, complements Nanna’s lilting voice with a tone smooth-as-butter, radiating a reassuring confidence. The supporting musicians of the band include guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, piano (and accordion) player Árni Guðjónsson, sturdy bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson, and relentless drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson. Nanna, the ringleader, formed the band to support her solo project, but once she and co-singer Raggi began to write songs together, they never looked back. Each band member is a vital component of this band, whose use of layers and diverse instruments builds the foundation for their alluring musical identity.
The Voice of a Generation
The band’s musical style is reflective of the growing trend of organic (rather than synthesized or purely electronically produced) sounds, which tend to convey a deep sense of community and connectedness to emotions, to the earth, and to the future. The alternative-folk-rock genre has always represented a yearning for simplicity, authenticity, emotional investment in life, and exploring meaning. Of Monsters and Men has recaptured this exact yearning, this generational movement, in their take of new-age alternative rock, using their own musical blend of instruments in My Head Is An Animal.
Their debut record reclaims and refreshes the entire alternative folk rock genre, alongside the likes of alternative troubadours Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and folksy, passionate Mumford and Sons. Another prominent contemporary peer is Arcade Fire, whose music tends to soar and echo in ways similar to our Icelandic friends’. The Civil Wars and Andrew Belle feature similar male-female dual lead vocals. It’s evident that Of Monsters and Men upholds great integrity in writing music, blending poetic lyrics with an infectious, yet entirely authentic catchiness that delivers, which makes comparisons to other groups in the genre fall short. While some bands produce a handful of memorable songs per album, Of Monsters and Men refuses to stop short of its potential, and knocks each and every song on the record out of the park.
My Head Is An Animal is a spirited alternative-folk record, taking the listener on a journey through triumphant trumpets and tambourines, accordions, glockenspiels, choruses of shouts, and strong piano, drums and guitars. Of Monsters and Men polishes their genre with energy, harmony, precision, passion, and unity. Most choruses feature musical call-and-response between female vocalist Nanna and male vocalist Raggi. There is a spirit of adventure in their sound, especially in songs such as “Mountain Sound” which features an up-tempo, rip-roaring beat on the drums, and an uplifting melody on piano and guitar. This adventurous spirit is also manifested in the music video for “Little Talks” as animated figures of the band members all voyage through several perils and escape fantastical beasts to return a beautiful creature to her home. This video serves a great metaphor for the victorious energy the music inspires in the listener – showing that with perseverance, and a lot of luck, obstacles can be overcome.
However, that doesn’t mean everything on the album is rainbows and happy endings. Of Monsters and Men explores themes of loss and trials, while their melodies tend to soar with a contrasting optimism and certainty of perseverance. As a band of six members, there are multiple instruments harmonizing and producing precision sometimes quietly and introspectively, with softly repeated melodies as a stringed instruments’ motif builds in the background and fades: other times in a seemingly celebratory, raucous chorus full of rhythmic shouts. Boasting acoustic melodies, echoing effects, and complimentary, harmonized, ethereal voices, this record is full of thoughtfulness, with delightful instruments and the kinds of sounds that inspire heroism, in spite of the sense of mourning portrayed through the album, noted in songs such as “From Finner.” My Head Is An Animal is an album is sure to top the year-end charts, and possibly the decade.
My Head Is An Animal is an invitation from the Icelandic sextet to join them in the musical journeys their songs comprise. For young adults around the globe, or anyone searching for fun and adventure, meaning and hope, or someone who enjoys a good foot-stomper, Of Monsters and Men is sure to not only deliver, but also inspire.