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Of Monsters And Men

Iceland has produced a raft of indie-pop combos since the budding SUGARCUBES (and, in turn, BJORK) emerged from its glacial climes way back in the late 80s, and now a generation on, sextet OF MONSTERS AND MEN complete the musical cycle. Heralded in some quarters as Keflavik’s answer to ARCADE FIRE or MUMFORD & SONS, OMAM present an alternative, fresh-faced blend of chamber-pop.
Led by co-singers/songwriters/acoustic guitarists, Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar “Raggi” Porhallsson, plus other musicians Brynjar Leifsson (electric guitar) and Arnar Rosenkranz Hilmarsson (drums/percussion), the initial quartet won their nation’s prestigious Musiktilraunir Battle of the Bands competition in 2010, before being jettisoned into the big time. Adding two others, Kristjan Pall Kristjansson (bass), Arni Guojonsson (accordion/keyboards), to stretch out elements of their sound, OMAM signed a deal with Record Records, who, in turn, released a live favourite, `Little Talks’.
The impact was immediate as their homeland chart-topper reached the shores of America, as did tracks from their debut album, MY HEAD IS AN ANIMAL (2011) {*8}. An introductory EP, `Into The Woods’, opened with the aforementioned hit and bubbled outside the Top 100 when issued on the major Universal Republic imprint. Word spread fast, and with tours as far afield as Australia, the rest of the globe went crazy to get their hands on the album when issued spring 2012. In its first week it reached both British and American Top 10s.
Having had previous experience in her own Songbird project, the exuberant Nanna was a star in the making, coming across as a folky cocktail of Dolores O’Riordan, Regine Chassagne and of course, BJORK. Raggi, too, is driven by the bombastic energy and sincerity of the songs, anthemic songs such as `Mountain Sound’, `Dirty Paws’ and the aforementioned Top 20 hit, `Little Talks’. Whether they can break free of the “Icelandic Arcade Fire” tag, their blend of melancholy and twee romanticism is particularly endearing on `From Finner’, `King And Lionheart’, `Love Love Love’ and the climactic `Yellow Light’. Note that unofficial member/trumpeter, Ragnhildur Gunnarsdottir replaced Arni later in the year.
Captivating and mesmerising as ever, the summery and sugar-sweet BENEATH THE SKIN (2015) {*8} – another UK Top 10 entry no less – OF MONSTERS AND MEN took their WANNADIES-meets-CRANBERRIES dream-pop/folk beyond its boundaries for set two. Kicking off with the atmospheric down-load single, `Crystals’, and exploring other adventurous avenues by way of `I Of The Storm’, `Human’, `We Sink’ et al, chances are they could become the next IMAGINE DRAGONS across the seas in America.
A long four years in the proverbial wilderness didn’t deter stalwart fans from reactivating OF MONSTERS AND MEN’s next absorbing adventure. Produced by Rich Costey, the transatlantic Top 20 album, FEVER DREAM (2019) {*7}, was just what the doctor ordered; a semi-sonic set of compulsive tracks that highlighted shimmering singers Nanna and Ragnar. Anthems here were of the pulsating and swooning variety, and sacrificing a little of their echo-y indie aplomb, emotion was at hand for the bombastic `Alligator’, plus `Ahay’, `Waiting For The Snow’ and the sweeping, PASSENGERS-esque `Stuck In Gravity’ and `Wars’.
© MC Strong/MCS Jan2013-Jun2015-Aug2019

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