It’s been a strange old rise to prominence for Icelandic six-piece Of Monsters And Men. They have been kind of a big deal in their homeland since they won an annual battle of the bands competition in Iceland in 2010. While their debut album, entitled My Head Is An Animal, has already broke into the top 10 in the US – a considerable feat for such a relatively new band. But Of Monsters And Men only started making waves over in the UK when their heart-warming and joyous single, Little Talks, started receiving airplay.
The sextet then played a storming set at Reading Festival 2012 in front of a packed NME/Radio 1 tent – quite an achievement considering they were the first act to take to the stage on the Sunday. But while the UK may consider My Head Is An Animal a new album, the band actually released it in Iceland back in 2011. However, it no longer matters that Britain was a bit slow on the uptake, because now they have come to our attention, they are unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry.
It’s easy to see why Of Monsters And Men have been so successful elsewhere. Not only do they sound like an Icelandic Mumford and Sons – not a bad thing – but they also have male and female lead vocalists, with two completely unique, but complementary voices. Then there’s the fact that they can write rousing, evocative songs like Little Talks, which possesses the same rush of energy and stirring of emotion that Arcade Fire have perfected over the years. But if you think Of Monsters And Men are riding high on the strength of one song, then you will be sadly mistaken after listening to their debut.
From the flickering acoustic guitar which kicks off album opener, Dirty Paws, to the delicate and beautiful closer, Lakehouse, Of Monsters And Men’s first LP rarely errs in quality. King And Lionheart is a measured, slow-burner, which builds throughout its running time and makes the most of the engaging boy-girl vocal exchanges. While Mountain Sound sees Ragnar þórhallsson take lead on the verse, before Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s stunning vocal takes over on the huge sing-a-long chorus.
The rable-rousing Six Weeks is another standout, with þórhallsson’s strong vocals rising to the occasion on the passionate chorus, one bursting with feel-good warmth. The album is not completely packed with bustling and lively tunes, though, as shown by the gorgeous Hilmarsdóttir-led Love Love Love. Her vocals are angelic over a scratchy acoustic guitar and swelling keys as she sings: “Well, maybe I’m a crook for stealing your heart away/ and maybe I’m a crook for not caring for it.” Not necessarily lyrical perfection, but like the music, Of Monsters And Men keep things simple, but effective.
In many ways, criticising My Head Is An Animal feels like shooting a small puppy, but the album does have its flaws. The boy/girl interchange does get slightly tiresome as the LP gleefully bounces along, while songs such as Slow And Steady and From Finner are so comfortable that they fall a bit flat. But Of Monsters And Men don’t try and deceive you into thinking they are something they’re not. My Head Is An Animal deserves the attention it is getting, because it is a well-crafted, spirited debut album with soaring choruses and delicious harmonies. Yes, it verges on being cheesy now and again, but this is an album that can lighten even the darkest of souls.