Iceland: a tiny island nation of roughly 320,000 people. It has no standing army. It is at the mercy of the hundreds of active and inactive volcanoes that lie below its geothermally unstable surface. Despite no major industries (other than fishing), Iceland remained one of the wealthiest nations of the burgeoning European Union. To add to this miniscule nation's exotic appeal, it has produced two of the most consistently excellent and ambitious artists of the 90s and 2000s, IDM siren Bjork and post-rock/ambient icons Sigur Ros. Well, we can finally add another band to the list of astonishingly talented acts to emerge from the volcanoes and fjords of Iceland, six person folk pop act Of Monsters and Men, whose debut album My Head Is An Animal marks the band as a force to be reckoned with.
Of Monsters and Men rose to prominence after winning the 2010 Musiktilraunir, which is Iceland's national battle of the bands-esque competition. Before long, this led to a major label signing, Universal, before they had even released their first real album. The band is that good, and if you were worried that a major label debut from a mostly anonymous band stateside would lead to a sloppy and amateurish premiere, you can rest those worries aside. My Head Is an Animal joins Cults' self-titled debut as an album that will instantly shoot Of Monsters and Men to the top of everyone's watercooler music conversation. With a sound that can only be described as Arcade Fire's more folk-oriented younger brother, Of Monsters and Men craft their own musical soundscapes to create an album experience that is as familiar as it is unknown.
As soon as the acoustic guitars of "Dirty Paws" segue into its more uptempo and semi-electric counterpart full of communal sing-alongs, you know you're in for something different. With often dueling male and female vocals, a regular interplay between acoustic and rustic instrumentation alongside expansive sonic flourishes, and the distinct, almost otherworldly voice of male singer Ragnar Porhallsson, My Head Is An Animal's ability to transport you to a fantasy realm is only partially dependent on its often esoteric and whimsical lyrics. The album feels like the soundtrack for a descent into the imaginative worlds of authors like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, with a sound that transports you to a world beyond the one you currently inhabit.
The album is very slight on the weak moments, and although it may not be able to maintain its rapturous energy for its entire running time, it never ceases to be interesting. "Little Talks" is the required track for every listener, even those who don't have time to devour this whole album (though we recommend you do). Finding the sweet spot between "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire, "Little Talks" is one of the freshest album tracks since Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know." I've lost track of the number of times I've played it over the last several days. Other highlights include "Mountain Sounds," "Six Weeks," and "King and Lionheart." If you're looking for the next band that is sure to capture the public zeitgeist, Of Monsters and Men have made their claim for the throne.