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Far Off Sounds Delightful

Lizzie Schroff | Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When I think of Iceland, the images that come to mind are steaming volcanoes and geysers, frigid fjords, and Bjork’s swan dress (one could probably write an entire article on that wardrobe choice in itself).
New band Of Monsters and Men jumped onto the music scene after winning the Icelandic battle of the bands, Músíktilraunir (I dare you to say that three times fast), in 2010, and released their full-length album in April of this year.
Their debut album, “My Head Is an Animal,” brings alive the Nordic myths and folklore of the region with a modern, indie twist.
The album aptly begins with the female and male lead vocalists singing the album’s title lyrics on the track “Dirty Paws.”
The song picks up with a steady drumbeat and choral lines, and the lyrics set the tone of a journey through folklore and fairytale.
“King and Lionheart” continues the myth-like theme, conjuring up images of kings, ghosts and sailing ships (the theme of sailing and the sea is echoed prominently throughout the album).
After the upbeat track “Mountain Sound,” the tempo dies down a bit with “Slow and Steady.” The song focuses prominently on the drums and features ethereal effects and choruses that fade out at the conclusion of the song.
One of the summer’s top indie hits, “Little Talks” stands out as the intermediate point for the album. The unmistakable brass melody and collective choral, “Hey!” is extremely catchy, and one can’t help but sing along with the chorus.
The back and forth between singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson (these names are going to kill me) is a heart-breaking dialogue, drawing the listener into a story of seemingly fated lovers.
The song continues the allusions to things nautical, featuring the creak of a ship’s deck during the quiet bridge.
“Six Weeks” paints pictures of fighting off beasts and riding fervently towards home. The song is a little harder-hitting than the other songs on the album, featuring electric guitar, pounding piano, and upbeat drums.
Quite possibly my favorite track is the balladic, “Love, Love, Love,” sung solely by Nanna. The song draws its beauty from the simple melody and acoustic sound, highlighted by the acoustic guitar, accordion and xylophone -like sounds.
Halfway through the ballad, there is a break in which Nanna sings, “So I think it’s best / We both forget / Before we dwell on it,” yet all one can do is dwell in the silence.
“Your Bones” feels and sounds like a journey song; the drums and trumpet seem to drive the songs characters forward as they “drifted towards the storm” and “the fire spread.”
The following track “Sloom” is a beautiful blend of harmonies between the lead vocalists, backed by simple instrumentation including acoustic and an echoing electric guitar, accordion, and clapping (I simply cannot resist songs that feature clapping).
The album concludes with the track “Yellow Light.” The song is rather melancholy, as the two characters hopefully make their way towards a bright light while “the soft walls eat [them] alive.”
The song continues on long after the lyrics conclude, building in power until a sweetly ringing piano and xylophone resolves it.
The album relies heavily on vivid imagery of forests, the sea, monsters, animals, spirits and the elements.
The distinctive and striking voices of lead vocalists Hilmarsdóttir and Þórhallsson narrate an engaging story that takes the listener on the journey with them.
The riveting and otherworldly sound effects that echo throughout the album further sets the myth-like ambiance sung about throughout the album.
I enjoyed “My Head is An Animal,” and think that any fan of bands such as Arcade Fire, The Decemberists or The Shins will enjoy it too.
I look forward to hearing more from this group, but I will be crossing my fingers that their Grammy night fashion is not inspired by fellow Icelander Bjork.
Contact Lizzie Schroff at