Monsters of Folk
Back in March of 2011 we noticed that a scrappy Icelandic folk rock band called Of Monsters and Men was getting warm reviews on the blog circuit based on only a few songs. They had lovable hooks and a vibrant spirit. You could picture them singing at the top of their lungs in a backyard with friends. They’d already won a nationwide battle-of-the-bands contest, but with their talent, and the anticipation around their debut album, you knew they were destined for a much larger audience than even all of Iceland could afford them. We blogged our excitement.
Since then, they’ve bloomed big. Following an important session with Seattle’s KEXP, they released their best-selling debut album My Head is an Animal, signed with Universal, and have been hailed as “your new Arcade Fire” by Rolling Stone. Looking at the buzz around the septet — and the popularity of bands like Arcade Fire and Mumford and Sons to whom the band is often compared — they’re looking good to be the next Sigur Rós. That is, the next Icelandic band whose relevance trumps their nationality — so that they belong to the Land of Indie more than they belong to Iceland, at least in the popular imagination.
And the album! “Anthemic” doesn’t even cover it, but it’s a start. Thunderous psyche folk destined for stadiums is getting a bit better. It’s a barreling emotive freight train. Ecstatic country gospel for the dawning of a New Age. Lush chamber pop spirituals devoted to the exaltation of love and life, green and bright as an Iceland travel brochure. Brian Wilson and Peter, Paul, and Mary turned up to eleven.
You could compare Of Monsters and Men to Arcade Fire, sure, but they kind of make Arcade Fire sound like elevator jazz. The energy is more like Jonsí’s Go.The septet features male and female vocalists (guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson) shouting out (in lovely harmony) lyrics that are often hippie daydreams, but are just as often moving and perceptive. “Little Talks,” now an Icelandic number 1 radio hit, is a stomping, clapping, trumpet-laced jam to solve your relationship problems by — and blast at full volume. You wouldn’t want to call the music acid folk — the high is more like mushrooms: instilling a sense of clarity and well-being that may or may not last beyond the experience itself.
My Head is Animal seems to be a little hard to find at the moment, but it is slated for a US release in Spring. In the meantime, their more recently released EP Into the Woods is a nice introduction to the band, and it’s available on iTunes. They’re also stretching their SXSW showcase into an extensive US tour. So far, they’ve confirmed our initial premonition. If we were to go with our gut a second time, we’d have to say they’re nowhere’s near done blooming.