Album Review: Of Monsters and Men

Of Monsters and Men

Looking for the next Arcade Fire?

It seems like every band is hoping to be the next Arcade Fire or Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver. I imagine the DJs at all the public radio stations receive hundreds of music files upon the hour every hour, and in some ways I both envy and do not envy the task of giving them all a listen to find that band which is both talented and original, and not an imitation of a current fan favorite. It would seem that the DJs have stumbled upon a band from Iceland called Of Monsters and Men who may be the next darlings of independent music for their charming vocals, enchanted lyrics, and subtly layered instruments.

When I think of music in Iceland, I think of Bjork and the Sugarcubes. I still like listening to old Sugarcubes tunes — they still seem fresh and dynamic, whimsical and crazy, mixing the masculine and feminine to create a culture that all their own. I guess I expect a band from Iceland to somehow pay homage to their famous predecessors, to build upon that legacy. Of Monsters and Men, despite a band whose very name evokes William Blake-like tones of mythology, morality, and inescapable duality, really doesn’t sound like The Sugarcubes at all.

In fact, they kinda sound like Arcade Fire.

Maybe even more like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

And personally, I hear a lot of The XX, Kate Nash, and Mumford and Sons, too. Maybe even some of The Decemberists, lyrically, but I could just be biased there.

Of Monsters and Men has a sweet success story, too. They won the Icelandic version of Battle of the Bands, the Músiktilraunir, something that not even the Sugarcubes won (though to be fair, I have no idea if they even competed in it). Their song “Little Talks” became a top ten hit in Iceland and is now receiving recognition and airplay on the public radio stations on this side of the Atlantic.

It’s no surprise. “Little Talks” is a catchy song, leaving the listener feeling good and perhaps a little more upbeat by the end. It’s this song that leads me to think that anyone who loves the catchy rhythms and happy narrative lyrics of the now ubiquitous Edward Sharpe tune “Home” would certainly want to give Of Monsters and Men a listen. I was charmed by the comingling vocals of lead singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson, the atmospheric sounds of a creaky abode on the swirling seas, and the affirmative chants of the six-member band acting as a chorus. I think it was this latter part, a repeated device used in a handful of their songs, that reminded me of Arcade Fire.

Their full-length debut album My Head Is an Animal is set to release early this year. (It was released in Iceland on September 20th, 2011 on the Record Records label.)  I’m happy to report that the rest of the album holds up to the enchanting “Little Talks.” Many of their songs feature animals and mythical encounters in magical woods. Animals talk, supernatural events haunt, and legends gain life in their tales. But the stories in the songs never replace the instrumentation and the lyrics, the vocals, and the band working evenly together to create an impressive collection of songs.

The band has been falling into that Indie-Folk category, for traits such as twangy guitars, lazily buzzing accordions, and a mix of new folk rhythms and old folk traditions. “King and Lionheart” features all of these elements plus the wonderful story “singing” of Nanna and Ragnar — almost like a call-and-response style of duet. This is where I hear the XX influence: Ragnar’s vocals are especially reminiscent of the XX. Also, the slow build up of the song is similar: it starts with the dual vocals and slowly the band’s instruments build into a crescendo of sound.

I personally love these new big folk-rock bands with all the variety of vocals and instruments coming together-instruments we haven’t seen in popular music in some time. Of Monsters and Men draws on native sounds and experiments with new rhythms. Truly, the songs on My Head Is an Animal are carefully crafted compositions, like canvases exploding with magnificent color and patterns.

On the whole, the album is Romantic with a capital R. And I do think they are similar to their approach in songwriting to The Decemberists. Like Colin Meloy, Nanna and Ragnar read stories that inspire their own songwriting. This was Meloy’s approach in writing The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love. And like the songs on these albums, Of Monsters and Men takes bits of fable and folklore to create their own mythology in their songs. The whimsical sound combines with simple, childlike metaphors which explore the worlds of death, ghosts, ships, houses… all in lyrics which are fantastical, even nonsensical, yet infectious with their layered melodies and choral enthusiasm.




© 2012, The Indie Mine. All rights reserved.

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Virginia is a technical writer by day, college instructor by night, and superblogger from dusk to dawn. She contributes music and literature reviews to The Indie Mine. You can follow her on Twitter @syntaxed.

10 Responses to “Album Review: Of Monsters and Men”

  1. Joe
    April 3, 2012 at 10:53 am #


    Just bought the cd this morning. The day of its American Release (april 3rd 2012). When I first heard it, the first thing that came to mind was “Home.” Edward Sharpe and Arcade Fire are great comparisons. With that being said, I believe this record does hold its own and has a touch of their home culture influences in the music. They are very true to their form and this Cd is a very good listen all the way through.

    For me……
    the reviews go like this……

    If i can get through a entire record without turning it off, the artist(s) made a great record.

    I would recommend this record to anyone that wants to feel uplifted by the beautiful sounds that OM&M created.

  2. April 3, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    “romantic with a capital R”…great way to sum up the album. this band is just another great success to come out of Iceland right along side with jonsi/sigur ros. check out Manik Music’s review for another full album analysis of this new release. they ranked the album a B+!!!

  3. June 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    of monsters and men is the best band ever!!!

  4. josh
    December 31, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    this band is directly ripping off edward sharpe and the magnetic zeros, their song little talks not only sounds exactly like “Home” but also uses trumpets just like home and has the same backing vocal shouts that home does, what a rip. I heard 10 seconds of this song and I immediately said hey thats a rip off of home by edward sharpe. I dont understand music today. I cant understand why crap like this is a hit. especialy when the song that it ripped off is 100 times better than it and edward sharpe and the magnetic zeros is relatively unknown today, meanwhile this band is beng played on mainstream radio, probably making a bunch of money on unoriginal songs and a sound that is already dated. Mainstream music today is terrible and this is a good exampe of why. People who have a good ear and good taste in quality and original music will hear that this is garbage while the majority of the mainstream culture continues to get force fed this crap and think that its good and new and “original” when in fact its really a direct rip off. Also this band is ripping off arcade fire, and mumford and sons to an extent. Its funny because mumford and sons kinda sucks anyway and arcade fire’s sound is 10 years old already, why cant people come up with new and original music anymore?

  5. mojo
    January 3, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    Totally agree with you ‘josh’. This song is a TOTAL rip off of ‘Home’ in every way. The vocal shouts. the horns, the tune, the beat, the male/female back and forth. It’s such an incredibly blatant rip off, it takes your breath away! I mean, WTF??! But the ‘soul’ of ‘Home’ is missing from ‘Little Talks’, and that’s everything!There is something so euphoric and ‘down home’ about ‘Home’, I will never forget the first time I saw it performed, I could not get it out of my head – it reaches into you, stays with you. I was shocked when I heard ‘Little Talks’ for the first time recently on the radio here in New Zealand, shocked that this band could get away with such a blatant rip off. But what has really shocked me most of all is that so many reviews openly acknowledge its ‘similarity’ to ‘Home’ yet are quite happy to accept that…. as if it really doesn’t matter! Newsflash: yes, it DOES matter! Even if you think ‘Little Talks’ is better than ‘Home’ (it isn’t), it’s still a blatant rip off – and that does matter!! Shame on you Of Monsters and Men, shame shame shame on you!

  6. January 4, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    While I’m tempted to hand out Snickers bars to a few posters, may I suggest the following: instead of focusing on one song, listen to both albums side-by-side. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have a primitive influence, drawing from Australian aboriginal instrumentation, while Of Monsters and Men draw from a Nordic folk tradition. Focusing on one song from each band seems rather limiting and unfair to any band.

  7. T.Walt
    February 24, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    I’m just glad Josh and mojo don’t rule the world.

  8. Sam I Am
    March 7, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    No “Virginia” not when that song is what puts you on the map. Most “casual” aka “mainstream” listeners know the bands by the song they are being judged for and it is a blatant rip off because I thought the song was actually by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros before I looked it up. When your sound is that identical it isn’t by accident. They heard home and ripped it off.

    T. Walt I wish they did, or were at least in the majority; then music would be great instead of OK.

  9. Wilber Gurgleburger
    April 29, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I hate any band that plagiarizes! This wannabe Edward Sharpe band now has my greatest disdain!

  10. Dave S
    November 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Shameless ripoff of Ed Sharpe. Total!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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