Friday, March 18, 2016

Growing On Me: Of Monsters And Men Gets Beneath The Skin!

The Good: Lyrics, Vocals, Instrumental accompaniment, Duration of the deluxe edition
The Bad: Backloaded, Starts off unremarkable
The Basics: The deluxe edition of Of Monsters And Men's Beneath The Skin is far and away the best way for those who love music to get the band's sophomore album!

Every day, I listen to Of Monsters And Men. The band's song "Thousand Eyes" was used as part of the promotional campaign for the Netflix series Jessica Jones (reviewed here!) and I have a Jessica Jones theme on my television every time I turn it on. "Thousand Eyes" is a song off the Of Monsters And Men album Beneath The Skin, which I have the deluxe edition for review. I was concerned that, having fallen in love with "Thousand Eyes," I might judge the entire album Beneath The Skin by the high standards I have for that song; it is rare that I hear a song daily for three months and do not get sick of it.

I'm pleased to say that I did not judge Beneath The Skin based on the single "Thousand Eyes" for very long. That said, Beneath The Skin did not immediately grab me, largely because the first few tracks just sound like songs that could have been rejected from the Of Monsters And Men debut album My Head Is An Animal (reviewed here!). It is a rare thing that I encounter an album that is so backloaded - has the best songs on the latter half of the album - that becomes so enjoyable to relisten to. But that is the deluxe version of Beneath The Skin.

With fifteen tracks (thirteen songs, two of which get remixes), stacking up to 65:33, Beneath The Skin is the work of Of Monsters And Men. All of the songs are written by the band - specifically Nanna, Ragnar, and/or Arnar - and they composed the tracks as well, though the two remixes were created by people not in the band. The lead vocals are performed by the band and they play their own instruments as well. Of Monsters And Men is credited with co-producing Beneath The Skin with Rich Costey. It seems that Beneath The Skin is very much the album Of Monsters And Men intended to release.

And what that album is is a work that blends folk music lyrics with more of a pop/orchestral rock sound. The result is a rich musical sound that occasionally overwhelms the lyrics that the performers are singing, as they do on "Human." The album evolves nicely from a sound that is very familiar to those who heard tracks from the debut album of Of Monsters And Men: the style is to start slow and quiet and then erupt musically, with a much more up-tempo second half of the song. But on Beneath The Skin, the songs slowly transition into a series of musically deeper, more homogeneously melancholy tracks. The latter half of Beneath The Skin is sad and potent, without resorting to the familiar sound Of Monsters And Men developed over the prior one and a half albums.

Beneath The Skin is dominated by the vocals of Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir, with Ragnar harmonizing with her and only getting a song or two of lead vocals. Nanna's higher register vocals contrast nicely with the more bassy sounds of the instrumental accompaniment. Sadly, on tracks like "Empire," Ragnar's vocals sound whispy, poppy and artificial - more akin to something by Owl City than Of Monsters And Men.

What continues to be intriguing about Of Monsters And Men is their lyrical prowess. It is easy to be drawn to the haunting themes and equally haunting lines of a song like "Thousand Eyes," as it evolves beautifully and darkly. As the song transitions from "Undo this storm and wait / I can't control withering wonders / Flowers that lose their shape" to "I am the storm / So wait" ("Thousand Eyes") the lines manage to send chills up the listeners spine each time.

I was impressed by the strength of imagery on most of the tracks on Beneath The Skin. Usually, the song after the single I am most familiar with has real trouble holding its own. However, "I Of The Storm" is quite impressive and even warrants the re-interpretation as the final track on the album. With the lines "If I could face them / If I could make amends / With all my shadows / I'd bow my head / And welcome them / But I feel it burning / Like when the winter wind / Stops my breathing / Are you really going to love me / When I'm gone / I fear you won't / I fear you don't" ("I Of The Storm"), Of Monsters And Men paints a compelling musical picture.

Beneath The Skin is not a full departure from what listeners expect from lines from Of Monsters And Men. Some of the songs are folk-like musical storysongs, with characters, conflicts and themes. Lyrics like "You hover like a hummingbird / Haunt me in my sleep / You're sailing from another world / Sinking in my sea, oh / You're feeding on my energy / I'm letting go of it / She wants it / And I run from wolves / Breathing heavily / At my feet" ("Wolves Without Teeth") help to tell a poetic story that compels the listener to pay attention.

Ultimately, Beneath The Skin grew on me with multiple listens, but it is still a somewhat erratic album. It lacks punch up front and some of the songs are less distinguished and blend together. But once "Organs" comes up, the album pops and does not let up.

The best track is "Thousand Eyes," the low point is the unremarkable "Hunger."

For other, former, Artist Of The Month works, please check out my reviews of:
Any Day Now - Joan Baez
Blackstar - David Bowie
Jackie's Strength (Single) - Tori Amos


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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