Bands to Watch #237: Of Monsters and Men

By on Friday, 17th February 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Starting with Austin’s famed SXSW and ending with Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington State, Of Monsters and Men are taking North America by storm. Within weeks of announcing their tour, 70% of their dates have sold out; some venues deciding to upgrade, others have added second shows. This Icelandic collective may be a welcomed surprise to those of us outside their homeland, but they are well known at home where they won 2010’s Músiktilraunir, an annual national battle of the bands.

The four track EP ‘Into the Woods’ was released globally in December 2011, garnering attention from both NPR and influential Seattle radio station KEXP. With comparisons to Arcade Fire and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, they are destined to make their mark. But the likeness only goes so far. While certainly carrying on the folk rock/indie mantle, their music has a more majestic sound. Full of lush rhythms and compelling melodies, the songs transcend typical folk-rock music. “Iceland can be a very isolated country and that translates to the music,” female lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir says, adding, “we get stuck in our little world”.

I have to say that am I a big fan of the exploding folk rock genre and Of Monsters and Men is a genius entry into this burgeoning landscape. The songwriting is unique and absorbing – and not quite as happy as the music implies. The Icelandic backdrop lends its mystery and otherworldliness to the stories they tell. The music is layered and stands up to repeated listens; it is both delicate and majestic at intervals. While employing the dual vocals of Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson inevitably draws comparisons to the aforementioned bands, the sound is uniquely theirs, not simply the combining of a male and female lead vocal. The voices of the other band members are never far away though, as they chant at us through the mists.

Their first video, ‘Little Talks’, tells a fantastic tale of five sailors discovering a crystal princess and making the journey to return her home. Opening with the bright notes of a trumpet, you are sucked in by the unique and perfectly suited voices of Hilmarsdóttir and Þórhallsson. The imagery reflects the wild landscapes of Iceland and one can almost believe in the monsters that might live there. As they croon, “though the truth may vary, this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore”, the story brings us back to the sailors as it fades away into the creaking of a wooden ship.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghb6eDopW8I[/youtube]

With an almost breakable, ethereal voice, Hilmarsdóttir leads us through ‘From Finner’ and ‘Love, Love, Love’ while she shares vocal duties with her co-lead singer Þórhallsson for the remainder. My hope for the debut LP is that we hear more of the dual vocals as that is when they shine the brightest. ‘My Head is an Animal’, Of Monsters and Men full length debut, is scheduled to be released worldwide on the 3rd of April. The album, which was released in Iceland several months back, hit number one there in short order. Although the songs from the EP’s are repeated on the full length, I look forward to hearing the seven new tracks.

Of Monsters and Men are Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (co-singer/guitarist), Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson (co-singer/guitarist), Brynjar Leifsson (guitarist), Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson (drummer), Árni Guðjónsson (piano/accordion player) and Kristján Páll Kristjánsson (bassist) and are signed to Universal Music Group.

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One Response

3:13 pm
27th February 2012

I really love this video… I think you’re spot on with the “happy arcade fire” references.. very nice! thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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