Indie/folk Icelanders return, but are they here to stay?
Of Monsters And Men gradually rose to prominence during 2012, with their trumpet-driven anthem Little Talks leading them to a fame that they had not anticipated when they released their first album the year before. That album, My Head Is An Animal, was a triumph, and despite the mainstream success of Little Talks it managed to stay interesting, with the lavishly textured Slow And Steady and the uplifting King And Lionheart particular highlights. So with a new album coming up in June, does first-look single Crystals indicate any retention of that brilliance?
The short answer is yes. They haven’t varied their style a great deal, but that’s not a criticism; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Mumford & Sons recently took off in a completely different direction with promising results, but Of Monsters And Men didn’t need to do that. Thankfully, they haven’t gone the other way and completely copied their most successful piece of music either. There was a possibility that they would try to remake Little Talks, all trumpet riffs and duets, but they have evidently attempted something new and have actually skated closer to King And Lionheart than anything else. I’m not going to say that this is a ground-breaking revolution for their genre or their career, because there are a lot of similarities to their outstanding work, but it finds a handy balance.
However, it’s not perfect. It’s definitely better on the second listen, because the verses are actually quite weak and predictable. It’s hard not to cringe when lead singer Nanna Hilmarsdottir (did I mention that they’re Icelandic?) tries to slip in an extra syllable in the first verse; ‘falling fast to THE ground.’ Ew. I also appreciate that they want to leave us wanting more, but the song has a slightly anticlimactic ending where you really feel they could have reprised the chorus one more time. But these are small niggles. I’d rather talk about what’s right about it.
The chorus is what’s right. I said I wanted to hear it twice at the end of the song but I lied. I want to hear it again and again and again. I want to date it. It’s unpredictable and it’s anthemic and it’s wonderful. The voice of male vocalist Raggi Þórhallsson (no, I don’t know what that letter is either) underneath Nanna’s gives a fullness to the melody, and every part of the song is content to just do its own thing, letting its team-mates do their separate jobs. This song is less Real Madrid, with the star men all outdoing each other, and more Barcelona, with each member of the team working in harmony.
There are trumpets, but they don’t do the Little Talks thing; they build the sound. Rather than being the fancy stained-glass windows, they are the brickwork, the windowsills. I feel like they’ve found their calling, building crescendos rather than being them. Nanna’s voice is a breath of cool breeze on a summer’s day, its delightful, airy tones ‘trembling down your spine.’ And these parts are all twined in the drum part, a length of ‘silver rope’ that pounds away of its own volition, reveling in the off-camber irregularity of the chorus.
This song, then, is like the country of Iceland; it’s not big or important, but it’s a lot nicer than most things that are.