My Head is an Animal By Of Monsters and Men
By Alessandro van den Brink
Whenever you think about Icelandic music, the word experimentalism seems to hit you right in the face practically every time. Just look at the nation’s two largest musical acts: Bjork and Sigur Ros; both of those two have been known for reshaping the way most people look at songwriting and are some of the pioneers of the experimental rock mainstream breakthrough of the past fifteen years or so. That’s why the expectations for compatriot group Of Monsters and Men seems so high from the start. However, unlike their predecessors, Of Monsters and Men is a sextet so deeply infused with indie folk music that they’ve often been described as the Icelandic Mumford & Sons. On the band’s debut record, “My Head is an Animal,” flinging acoustic guitars, Beirut-style brass sections and oriental accordions are all chaotically thrown together with an indie rock flair that, while seeming slightly childish at times, is mostly just your stereotypical feel good album. Instead of trying to get you in touch with the inner workings of your soul, Of Monsters and Men simply provide a lovely campfire-like sensation in which practically every song on “My Head is an Animal” can be viewed as a singalong track due to the aptitude for catchy harmonies strum up by co-singers Nanna Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar Porhallson in their slightly accented rough vocals. Another plus side that makes the Icelandic folksters so likable is their sincerity in each song that they perform. Not a single tune on “My Head is an Animal” feels synthetic or hollow and there’s not a single second of filler occupying parts of the record, as their full band moments are right on tier with some of the best in that category like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene without falling into a cliché along the road. Another fascinating quality of Of Monsters and Men is how intimate and genuine their music sounds. That way, even when it sounds as if Hilmarsdottir and Porhallson are recanting some long-forgotten fairy tales about times when dragons and druids were the talk of the time, it all somehow channels into the Icelandic feeling of the band, although this time they are the storytellers, instead of trying to put the spotlight on you. You’d think that this type of sensation could only occur from slower and composed tracks such as “Yellow Light” or “Numb Bears,” but some of the more upbeat songs like “King & Lionheart” and “Little Talks” can be just as effective by appearing so inviting to the average listener instead of seeming alienating in any way whatsoever. The only true faults that can be found while listening to “My Head is an Animal,” besides the already mentioned child-like nature of the record, are when the group tends to rely on the same instrumentation too often, because as we all know, our ears can only take too much accordion at a time before it becomes obnoxious. However, the repetitiveness of the album isn’t only limited to instrumentation, but can also be seen in the songwriting aspects of “My Head is an Animal,” as some of the reverberated guitar overlays that are thrown in as ornementation from time to time seem practically identical to their fellow guitar riffs in different tracks. But Of Monsters and Men certainly would never let anything of that sort impede them, so they simply drown it out in their blissful ruckus that turns into a folkish squaredance of acoustic brilliance that has a seemingly perfect outer shell that makes up for almost all inner foibles. That way, “My Head is an Animal” is one of those examples that songwriting occurs in two sections, with one of those being the performance aspect, and there’s no way you can resist the leisurely charm that is fabricated so easily by this Icelandic band that you nearly forget that their home nation is a desolate icy tundra for most of the year. While their British equivalents in Mumford & Sons may be winning most of the fame in the U.S., it’s fair to say that this mighty impressive debut from the Northern snowmen is actually more solid than the former in the consistency that makes up “My Head is an Animal” and lack of pop estrangement. “My Head is an Animal” is one of those albums that feels as though it was recorded directly for you and that type of intimacy is almost impossible and hasn’t been perfected this well since Florence and the Machine’s “Lungs.” Let’s just hope that Of Monsters and Men don’t also transform into a band of divas and start to forget the familiarity that made them so fantastic in the first place.
Key Tracks: “King and Lionheart”, “Little Talks” and “Dirty Paws”
Album Rating: 7.7/10