With the light-speed success of recent folk-revival pop groups like Mumford & Sons or Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, it’s easy to see why Of Monsters and Men’s debut single “Little Talks” has already caused some ripples. The song’s layered melodies and happy-go-lucky aesthetic found the perfect balance between the scaled-down Mumford and often-overstated Alex Ebert. Add to that the band’s Icelandic accents, a sweet trumpet solo, and Ragnar and Nanna’s dueling vocals, and you have an instant hit.
But on their first full-length, My Head is an Animal, the sextet prove themselves to be much more than copycat folkies. The work definitely extends the blissful mood found in “Little Talks,” but the variety found within this 11-track debut establishes these musicians as both artists and extremely talented writers. While the overall tone of the album hails a folk-aesthetic, the songs themselves are well-crafted pop hits. “Slow and Steady” swoons like an ’80s ballad, “Six Weeks” is a stomp-heavy anthem, and “From Finner” gives a new twist to the ’60s-inspired sound that Fleet Foxes are known for.
There’s also another hidden element to this band, one that has garnered allusions to Arcade Fire, whose name tends to come up a lot in the realm of folk-inspired indie rock. Yet while you won’t hear any Win Butler-style emotive yelping over these tracks, there certainly is a creeping familiarity behind the syncopated beats, hyper-orchestrated breakdowns and deceptively dark lyricism that make My Head is an Animal not too far from a more melancholy version of Funeral. Just as on that album, each artist plays masterfully, yet contributes to a denser and greater whole. The rhythm section is spot-on in each track, picking up where gravity is needed, and backing off in times of grace. And the instruments used in each song, be they accordion, trumpet or a variety of keyboards, fit great with the band’s chill-but-bombastic style, and the result, much like Funeral the first time around, is often something magical.
While there is not any evident storyline that runs through the entire album, each song echoes a very content form of desperation. On “From Finner,” the band sings altogether that they are “far from home, all alone, but we’re so happy,” a sort of juxtaposed position that the band seems to stick to throughout the hour-long venture. And later, Nanna sounds absolutely brilliant when she almost sing-speaks on “Love Love Love,” protesting “those bright blue eyes can only meet mine across a room, filled with people that are less important than you because you love, love, love when you know I can’t love… you.”
My Head is an Animal is a folk album. It is a pop album. It is a sad album, and it is an upbeat album. Time will tell how we hear it down the line, as it seems to leave a different impression every time I’ve listened to it. There’s just enough depth, and just enough space for one’s mind to travel to a different space each time the listener hears one of its soaring melodies. But I am sure one of thing: Of Monsters and Men will make an impression.
Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Up From Below
Arcade Fire – Funeral