Updated: May 2
Of Monsters and Men came into the indie scene in 2011 with one of the finest debut alternative albums of the last 20 years, My Head Is an Animal, a record showcasing the band's unique blend of folk-pop and indie rock. The debut record felt as a more developed and Icelandic take on records like Up From Below by American indie-folk stars Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, with similar room-filling chant choruses and a general “you can all join in” feel. Now twelve years later, the nostalgic album has even more character and charm than it did in 2011.
The soaring harmonies, the pounding drums and the momentous keyboards on the opening track Dirty Paws create a mythical sense of epic grandeur that sets the tone for what listeners can expect from Of Monsters and Men. The level of vocal talent on this record can not be understated with both lead vocalists, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson having absolutely mesmerizing voices.
The fan favorite and commercially adored standout track on the record, Little Talks goes just as hard today with its catchy horn riff and sing-along chorus as it did in 2011. Found high up on just about any indie-pop playlist, Little Talks hit a handful of year end and decade end charts, which as we know is far and few between in the indie world. Akin to Little Talks, King and Lionheart is another beautifully orchestrated track expressing the band's talent for crafting lush, cinematic, yet also eerie soundscapes.
On the same note as the beautiful soundscapes, what really sets My Head Is an Animal from other solid records in the indie-folk realm is the band's ability to create a sense of atmosphere separate from what is the norm. The mix of folklore, beauty, and sounds of the natural world, give the record a life to it. The album feels less like a collection of songs, but a journey through some mythical land, with each track contributing to a larger narrative. From the hauntingly beautiful ballad Love Love Love to the dreamy Slow and Steady, the album has a coherence that was rare then and is even more rare now. The group's initiative to mix an emotion-riddled ballad with a powerful shout chorus on tracks like Lakehouse is a real powerful, yet beautiful testament to putting emotion to music.
It's crystal clear that Of Monsters and Men's debut album is a standout in the indie-folk genre. With clever, introspective lyrics that touch on everything from love to self-discovery through an array of dynamic instrumentation and heartfelt lyrics. While Of Monsters and Men may have moved on to explore new sounds and styles since its release much to the annoyance of some long-time fans, My Head Is an Animal stands as a testament to the band's early brilliance and remains a record that deserves to be revisited and celebrated often. Even though some tracks may shine brighter than others, even the weaker tracks equally contribute to the beauty of the record as a whole.