One of the Best Debuts in Quite Some TimeApr 05, 2012
By J. Loudon In 2010, Of Monsters and Men won Músiktilraunir, Iceland's nationwide battle-of-the-bands competition. For those that may not think of this as an impressive feat, keep in mind Iceland is the country that has given us the likes of Sigur Rós and Björk. Drawing early comparisons to Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Of Monsters and Men is an alternative folk sextet led by the vocal pair Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson. After a race between labels to sign the band, Of Monsters and Men landed with Universal Music Group and now their highly anticipated debut is finally here.
Considering the recent success of debut records by Mumford and Sons as well as The Head and The Heart, fans' expectations for Of Monsters and Men are understandably high. With a wide variety of instruments including brass, accordion, glockenspiel, melodica, piano, and guitar filling any of the gaps left by the stellar vocal harmonies, Of Monsters and Men have clearly latched onto a winning formula within their genre. The two lead vocalists could both easily carry an album on their own, but it is the blending of their voices that sets Of Monsters and Men apart from any act that could be considered their competition.
There are many moments, however, when one of the two voices is given the lead. The result is as much a pleasant change of pace as it is a means for building the overall emotion of the song. For instance, on "King and Lionheart," Nanna takes the opening of each verse alone, but Ragnar's voice is gradually blended in more and more. The instrumentation of the track grows substantially behind the voices as well so by the time Nanna and Ragnar are both harmonizing every word together, the energy of the entire song has flourished.
Similar to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' debut, "My Head is an Animal" remains far more positive and upbeat than Mumford and Sons' "Sigh No More." The album's opener, "Dirty Paws," is a song about war, but when that war is between bees, birds, and furry animals, it's hard not to smile as you listen. With a chorus of "la la las" and the occasional chant of "hey!" the band practically forces their audience to sing along.
Even the album's slowest moments have aspects that move the music forward and keep it from ever feeling tired. The track "Slow and Steady" lives up to its name in pace, but a heartbeat kick drum accompanied by a shimmering, reverb-laden electric guitar adds just enough to the harmonized vocal work to keep the five minute track from becoming labeled as filler.
The debut single from "My Head Is an Animal" is "Little Talks" and has been making its way around U.S. radio waves since August of last year. Fans of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will quickly hear similarities to the song "Home" thanks to the call and response between the two singers, the remaining members' chants during the chorus, and most importantly, the trumpets. Of Monsters and Men are well versed in the success of their predecessors, but there is still plenty of imagination in their lyrics and blend of instruments which keeps "My Head Is an Animal" from ever feeling like a copy.
With music that builds such as many of the songs on "My Head Is an Animal" do, anticipation is an element that bands often overlook. In some cases, a band will just add to the number of instruments or increase the volume without building any anticipation of things to come. The music can still be enjoyable, but if the moves are predictable or there is nothing to surprise the listener, it's harder to make the song stand out. On "Dirty Paws" and "Love Love Love," the band uses pauses in the music just long enough to make the listener wonder what happened. It's amazing how such a simple gesture can so greatly affect a song. Following these pauses, everything feels bigger and bolder. Although this technique is more common in a live setting, to hear it on a recording makes the first listen especially exciting.
"My Head Is an Animal" is a fun record. That alone deems it worthy of a listen, but there is far more to it than mostly positive lyrics and sing-along choruses. There is also a certain musical chemistry between the members of the band that finds its way into the recording. The harmonies, not just between Nanna and Ragner but the entire band, are extraordinary. Every voice, both vocal and instrumental is given its chance to shine and when they're needed, reverb and delay effects never grow to a point of distraction. Like Mumford & Sons' "Sigh No More," "My Head Is an Animal" introduces a band experienced beyond their years. To release a record like this at any point in a musical career is exceptional, but to release it as a debut is astounding. There are still plenty of records to look forward to in 2012, but look for "My Head Is an Animal" to make many "best of" lists come December.
Track Suggestion: "Little Talks"
56 of 58 found the following review helpful:
What a luscious, soaring achievement, just gorgeousMay 08, 2012
By Beth E. Williams
Don't miss this group, of whom I know very little, having just heard them for the first time today. I didn't even bother to wait - this is a CD I wanted now. That doesn't happen very often for me, and admittedly I have eclectic taste, but I am simply stunned with OM&M, their vivacity, freshness, their very obvious difference. Excellent vocals as their voices are not typical or routine nor even "similar to so and so," and that is so to their credit. They aren't trying to be anyone else, anything already worn down to a nub from over-familiarity.
Initially it was their curious type of musicality that gripped me, I will listen to anything, once, but if you manage to "sound" different that will get a second listen. I have spent all day unpacking this sound; they do have their musical quirks, which can be described as bouncy, effervescent, soaring, energetic, even jaunty, like swathes of shimmering silk banners, and then, it all pales and almost shivers with melancholy. Add in her breathy voice, possibly the most interesting, original vocalizing since the lead singer for the Cranberries and the drifting, weaving, tickling layers of sound around her voice and it is enough to make you just stop and HEAR, with that wonderful, priceless sensation as if for the first time.
In time I will put it all together, words, images, interplay between their complementary vocalists, male and female, but for now, and I hope a long time, I just don't want to lose that shock of something so unexpected that it makes you happy.
There is not a poor or sloppy or wasted track, the whole CD, whether played in shuffle or in order, works; nothing whiny, cloying, tedious or intentionally fatuous in their efforts, what an amazing body of sound here. Like the best of Modest Mouse (a sound in perpetual confusion as to what it is, which I rather like, and is only one indie example) OM&M delivers, but with more consistency.
Do something great for yourself today, GET this CD, and maybe it will be Mountain Sound, or Dirty Paws, or Lake House, but it will be one of them that makes you just stop and think, omg, to HEAR is such a delight, and they make you feel it too, not just hear it, but feel it. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Like the first time I heard Mozart's Magic Flute, music in particular has the ability to just make you thrilled to be alive!
39 of 42 found the following review helpful:
RefreshingApr 05, 2012
By K. Phillips We all know Of Monster and Men's hit title, Little Talks. This album features that stunner and a slew of hits. The album is a breath of fresh air, and any true fan of music will absolutely love every song and will find themselves humming along. Do yourself a favor, if you are a fan of Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire, or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, do yourself a favor, and support this magnificent indie band.
17 of 18 found the following review helpful:
A review in one sentence or less....Jul 16, 2012
By Open N. Honest
"Honesty is the best policy"
Music like this is the reason God gave us ears. This band is a gentle reminder of the beauty that can be found in something as simple and yet as complex as sound.
14 of 17 found the following review helpful:
Every song is outstandingApr 06, 2012
I have never been so excited for an album's release since I first heard this band's "Little Talks" several months ago on Alt Nation xm radio. I was even tempted to order it from Iceland and have it shipped to the US. Believe me when I say that purchasing this album will be your purchase of the year.
From up-tempo songs to slower ballads, this album is so well-rounded it's unbelievable. The lyrics are beautiful, the melodies and harmonies seem to flow independent of one another, and the instrumental portions add another key component to several songs. I completely agree with one of the previous reviewers about the way the two lead vocals weave their voices in and out of several songs. "Mountain Sound" and "Slow and Steady" were not previously released and were added to this album, and I believe Mountain Sound could be a radio hit within weeks. The band really seems to pour every ounce of themselves into this album, and it did not go unnoticed by this listener.
And just to add, I saw one of their live shows in Philadelphia during their small US/Canada tour, and if you ever have a chance to see them live, I highly recommend it.
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