Sunday, May 8, 2016

Of Monsters and Men - My head is an animal (2011)

Martin Männik

When Of Monsters and Men was first formed in 2010, Reykjavik, Iceland, nobody could anticipate such success for the group. It all began when lead singer and guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and her friend Brynjar Leifsson who plays an electric guitar, decided to form a band. Soon after they met Ragnar Þórhallsson, who also sings and plays acoustic guitar, and drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson. Together they went on and won Músíktilraunir in 2010, an annual battle of the bands competition in Iceland. After that two more members – bass and keys, joined the band.

It was not long before the group produced their first single “Little Talks”, which was a huge hit. The single alternates male and female vocals, which meet at the chorus and merge into a perfect chemical reaction. Single also features trumpets and with six members, the band may look like a small orchestra, but still they manage to keep the mix of many different sounds light and catchy. It was “Little Talks” that received radio-air play and got the band worldwide recognition.

In 2011, the band released their first full-length album “My head is an animal”. After the album kicks off with “Dirty Paws”. The song starts with delicate guitar plucking, what is soon joined by Nanna’s and Brynjar’s soft vocals. Just as the listener starts to think that this is one of those pleasant guitar melody and vocals duos, the drummer kicks off and the song picks up the pace. The opening song is followed by “King and Lionheart”, which, as the title suggest, is a song about valor and bravery. The lyrics were written by Nanna for her little brother, telling him that they will always have each other’s backs. Again, it opens with vocals and strumming of the guitar, but others quickly join in and make your foot tap along with the drum beat.

At this point, as the album progresses, it is clear that its strengths are perfect blending of the vocals that complement one-another, catchy melodies and mysterious lyrics. Throughout the whole album, an array of Nordic features are quietly served to the listener in the background, such as howling wind, creaking sounds, but also snow and Viking heraldry in the videos. Even most of the lyrics make you imagine a fairytalish (if that’s a word) land with brisk weather, tall mountains and different creatures. It almost feels like the band has written melodies for Icelandic folk tales and sings them out. The album screams Iceland in its every aspect. For example the album’s first track “Dirty Paws” was used in the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. The song was used as a background track for a scene, where Ben Stiller rides a bike on a lonely road in the middle of Icelandic wilderness, and the combo felt so right, that not even Björk could have pulled that one off.

In conclusion the album “My head is an animal” is an impressive debut. It’s full of emotional lyrics, dynamic vocals, mysterious but beautiful instrumental sounds and melodies. It’s one of those albums that sound good played live in front of a huge audience, but sound even better whilst sitting around the campfire at night. Indie-folk seems to have picked up and gaining popularity and the bands of that genre seem to have reached wider audiences.

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