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Of Monsters And Men
My Head is an Animal
Feral Folk Rock from Iceland
Of Monsters And Men has debuted big with My Head Is An Animal. The bright, booming folk rock on the Icelandic band’s first full-length packs the kind of euphoric pop payoffs that propel bands to the top these days. “King and Lionheart” and “Little Talks” were made to rule the festivals of summer. The repeated choral whoa-ohs and hand claps lift each track higher, bit by bit, until they reach a golden melodic mountaintop.
It’s this unrestrained but tuneful quality that draws comparisons to Arcade Fire, and, too be sure, they’ve got everything those Grammy-winning indie rockers have. They’ve also got a bit of what Fleet Foxes have, and some of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’s pastoral goodies too. But the really wonderful thing about the Reykjavik six-piece is that they are significantly weirder and wilder than those bands.
Though their harmonies are fine and their musicianship superb, there’s a feral quality to their shouted choruses and the hootenanny drum beats. Guitarists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson’s male-female duets have the vulnerable uncertainty and nervous energy of a DIY punk band playing their first basement show. Yet no note is ever misplaced. Sounding that raw and that sweet at the same time is not easy to do on purpose and not many of today’s up and comers would even shoot for that mark. But there’s no doubt this crew knows exactly what they are doing.
Then there are the lyrics. The already prismatic arrangements become psychedelic when married to verses about demon haunted lovers, magical beasts and, well, sometimes it’s hard to say what they’re singing about. “Dirty Paws,” starts out with the assertion “my head was an animal” that “had a sound that mowed the lawn.” And that’s the part that sort of makes sense.
But being weird is their secret weapon. You can’t fake weird and you can’t teach it. It’s a special gift that this crew has been richly blessed with. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the face of their dazzling hooks and deft songwriting, but, in the long run, it’s the weirdness and wildness that will set them apart from their contemporaries. It also makes this strange and lovely debut one worth revisiting years from now.