Last year I had this idea in my head that if I took a trip to Iceland, somehow I would magically begin figuring my life out. I know that statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but hang with me; it was a trying time in my life and I figured a trip to the other worldly landscapes would really level me off. The trip was planned for February, I was pumped about the journey, but then I took the time to do some actual research. What I found was not good. The two points that stood out the most were, the food stinks, and that the winter months turn the Arctic Circle portion of the globe into a snowy wasteland. The trip was canceled and I continued to wallow. However during my fact finding, I stumbled across an EP titled Into The Woods from the Icelandic sextet, Of Monsters and Men. I was instantly on board. They finally released a full length a few months back titled My Head Is An Animal and I can’t seem to stop listening to it. That’s why Of Monsters and Men has been selected as THE ARTIST OF THE WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK. When you read that bit there, the voice in your head should have done it like an announcer introducing a prizefighter. That’s what mine did and it was awesome.
The band is as follows.
Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir: Guitair/ Vocals
Ragnar þórhallsson: Guitar/ Vocals
Brynjar Leifsson: Guitar
Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson: Piano/ Accordion
Kristján Páll Kristjánsson: Bass
Árni Guðjónsson: Drums
I’m not even going to pretend that I know how to pronounce any of those made up letters.
Monsters formed in early 2010 after Nanna was looking to get a larger sound for her solo project’s live performances. Not surprisingly after a few shows with the rest of the gang, she decided to make rolling with a crew, a full time thing. Of Monsters and Men was born! They made a splash in the U.S. after my beloved KEXP attended the Iceland Airwaves Festival in October of 2010, heard the band, and decided to follow them back to a house and record them playing Little Talks in a living room and then throw it up on the internet.
Their debut album My Head is An Animal, is a melodic, upbeat, and dare I say, beautiful record. The sound is unlike anything going right now. The closest thing I can think to compare them to would be Arcade Fire and that’s a hell of a compliment as far as I’m concerned. The harmonies between Nanna and Ragner are sugary sweet. As I write this, I can’t stop listening to the tracks From Finner and Six Weeks. The songs swell and fall, the voices are powerful; it’s all consuming. I like that in a song. It lets me have three and half minutes where I forget I’m sitting alone in the dark, in a shitty little room, with no A/C.
It’s the voices on the album that I can’t get enough of. Ragner and Nanna have a dynamic that isn’t in music right now. I can’t think of the last female/male vocalists that went together so well. I’m gonna go a head an coin a singular name for them here and now. RagNanna. Done and done.
When I first saw Ragner, I didn’t know what to expect. The dude looks like he could be playing nose guard at University of South Florida, but low and behold, when he opens his mouth, the voice that comes out is soft and lovely. That’s right, I called it lovely. Meanwhile, Nanna is a Bjork like siren whose voice has me so head over heels, were she to acknowledge my existence, I’d move to Iceland, learn their bizzaro Middle Earth language, marry her, and start living the stay at home dad life in a row house furnished by Ikea. I know Ikea isn’t Icelandic, but hey, they have great living room sets. The lady is beautiful, and sings like an angel. What more can you say? Their harmonies are really something special. When combined with the band’s instrumentation, the result is downright outstanding. The incorporation of the accordion and horns give the band a full, rich, sound. My favorite thing on this album though, is how the accents and choruses are sung out in these Nordic choral bursts. It’s as if a massive crowd is singing along with the band. It harks back to those moments during live shows where everyone in the crowd shouts along with their favorite part. I like those moments, mostly because I’m usually two beers in and doing a good portion of the shouting.
Despite my love of the other tracks on this album, the single Little Talks is the far and away the stand out hit. It’s the type of song you look for when you’re piecing together a road trip mix tape. You want Little Talks on that mix tape, not Bush’s Glycerin. You want that one song that puts you in the perfect mindset for the drive. The one that causes you to embrace the belief that while there’s a long road ahead, you will eventually get there, and when you do, it will be something to remember. It had been a long time since I had that type of feeling. I’m glad that Of Monsters and Men could deliver it. Hopefully they can do the same for you.