It was a short journey home for Easter, marked by rusted railways, worn trailer parks and abandoned industrial parks. A visage of Americana living, and I needed a soundtrack to help suit the rambling mood. So I opened my laptop and searched through my library, finally deciding on listening to Of Monsters and Men’s debut album, ‘My Head Is an Animal’. Proceeding forward, without any previous knowledge or recommendation of the band, I tuned in, holding no bias, expectation or awareness.
And an hour and eight minutes later, I felt the air dispersed from my head, my ears, sucker punched.
But first off, let’s be clear, Of Monsters and Men’s sound is in no way unique. They are a straight cut, best-of-the-best concoction from The Head and the Heart, Arcade Fire, The Decemberists and Mumford and Sons. Yet, all those ancestral roots are laid bare to witness, and, what’s more strange, this Icelandic sextet seems to find peace within these frequent comparisons.
Nevertheless, there is an elevation that occurs in ‘My Head Is an Animal’. As Of Monsters and Men extract and compose their familiar sounds; they progress all of that into a voyeuristic catharsis. Therefore, even as the listener finds frequent musical familiarity in the track listing, they are also swept into unfamiliar territory. In those moments, ‘My Head Is an Animal’ then becomes a lyrical journey, defined by its potently animalistic and melodically flourishing tunes.
Out of the thirteen tracks, nine are ‘starred’ in my library so as to highlight the top tracks on the album. And it isn’t a coincidence that those nine tracks hold a faster tempo and build than the other four. And when their songs build, it really builds, continuing almost halfway in, until the release hooks you by the ears and cooingly refuses to let up until its end. That being said, Mountain Sound, From Finner, Little Talks, Six Weeks, Your Bones and Lakehouse are easily the sturdiest of the nine.
I fully expect ‘Mountain Sound’ to become a classic road-trip anthem. Childhood dreams of running away and summer exploration nostalgically revive themselves with its pop-like, indie light-heartedness. And with sonic rapidity, the song zips through lines like ‘I packed my things and ran…alone we traveled on with nothing but a shadow / we fled far away’. Yet, personally, I view ‘From Finner’ as the album’s definitive song. With its slow start and swinging momentum, it’s all held then unleashed through a floor pounding combination of the accordion and drums. Just close your eyes and it too easy envisioning a melodic trip through the cobbled canals and alleyways of Paris. (Betting that Jean-Pierre Jeunet will showcase this song in his next film) Then we arrive at the album’s first single, ‘Little Talks’. With its kicking pulse and the back-and-forth duet, this horn-heavy song skillfully summates all that the band has to offer. Just about everything in this song is solid, confident and well rounded. Yet, when switching towards a search of heart and raw emotion, look towards the song, ‘Your Bones’, as it croons its way to subtle magnificence with Raggi’s vocals and its emboldening chorus.
Near the conclusion of ‘Your Bones’, Raggi ends by singing ‘so hold on / hold on to your heart’. It’s a line that echoes volumes when one follows the explosive progression of this band’s past year. After winning Iceland’s national version of Battle of the Bands, Músíktilraunir, Of Monsters and Men have been ushered up in a whirlwind journey of sweeping critical acclaim, sold-out concerts and socially networked hysteria. And now, more than ever, it seems that that very line resurrects itself as a stern reminder to the band. So, lets hope that despite their astonishing journey, Of Monsters and Men will heed those self-cautionary words; especially when we consider the level of musical exceptionalism and spirit these six have poured forth already.