Sunday, March 6, 2016

My Head Is An Animal Of Monsters And Men Is My March Artist Of The Month!

The Good: Vocals, Instrumental accompaniment, Many of the lyrics, Duration
The Bad: Repetitive aspect of vocals, instrumental arrangement and lyrics
The Basics: My Head Is An Animal is an intriguing debut by Of Monsters And Men, one which replays surprisingly poorly over multiple spinnings!

When I bought a Playstation 4 system (reviewed here!) for my wife to replace our last Blu-Ray player, I was introduced to the joy of personalizing the system with menu skins. I was still exceptionally excited about the Netflix series Jessica Jones (reviewed here!) and so I made the theme on my PS4 Jessica Jones (and, hey, I'm a cheapskate and Netflix made that one free!). Whenever I boot up my system, an eerie song begins playing. The song is "Thousand Eyes" and by now, I should be very sick of the song, but I'm not. That level of greatness and intrigue led me to look into the performers and, as it turns out, artists who created the work. "Thousand Eyes" is by the band Of Monsters And Men and it was enough to make me look into them and decide to explore their three-album repertoire and make the group my (first) March 2016 Artist Of The Month!

Of Monsters And Men began their recording history with the album My Head Is An Animal and what instantly surprised me was how many songs off the album I had already heard. Of Monsters And Men were part of a music loop that played at one of my prior jobs and I just never looked into them before now. My Head Is An Animal is an excellent example of how a debut album can both find its own niche sound and, simultaneously, become repetitive. On My Head Is An Animal, Of Monsters And Men has an intriguing sound that blends the clear vocals of folk music with a deep, orchestral backing instrumental accompaniment; the closest artist I have encountered before this would be Nightwish (if only their lyrics were more comprehensible) or Evanescence. But the weird combination of strong female vocals, wending tunes that explode into up-tempo songs and folk-like musical storysongs plays poorly over multiple replays as the first three songs on My Head Is An Animal start to blend together somewhat awkwardly.

With twelve songs, clocking out at 59:38, My Head Is An Animal is very much the work of the sextet Of Monsters And Men (it's a quintet now, but for the debut album, the band had six members). All of the songs were written by members of Of Monsters And Men, primarily Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar Porhallsson (though Arnar Rosenkranz Hilmarsson is a close third on the writing front!). Nanna and Ragnar provide the album's lead vocals and all six members of the group play at least one instrument. The band is credited as co-producers on the album, so it is hard to argue that the debut is anything other than what they wanted to put out into the world.

Instrumentally, My Head Is An Animal illustrates the atypical, creative sound of Of Monsters And Men. The tracks tend to begin with an almost acoustic minimalism before exploding into a rich, deep, orchestral rock sound that includes guitars, bass, pianos and percussion. The instantly audacious musical formula, however, quickly wears thinner as it is repeated over multiple tracks. The result is that the listener comes to expect the particular reversal and Of Monsters And Men generally delivers.

Vocally, Of Monsters And Men is not entirely dominated by the vocals of Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir, as I might have guessed by "Thousand Eyes" (which is not from My Head Is An Animal!, on My Head Is An Animal. While Nanna's (hey, I just learned about patronyms!) vocals are articulate, clear, and transition nicely between alto and soprano registers, on My Head Is An Animal, Nanna does not do much in the way of holding notes on the debut album of Of Monsters And Men. Nanna is not only accompanied by Ragnar, but he has lead vocals on a couple of tracks with his lower vocals. The two primary vocalists harmonize amazingly well and the partnership of their vocals is one of the more distinctive aspects of the debut album of Of Monsters And Men.

On the lyrics front, My Head Is An Animal is dominated by musical storysongs. The immensely popular "King And Lionheart" frames their lyrical style very well: "His crown lit up the way as we moved slowly / Past the wondering eyes of the ones that were left behind. / Though far away, though far away, though far away / We're still the same, we're still the same, we're still the same. / Howling ghosts – they reappear / In mountains that are stacked with fear / But you're a king and I'm a lionheart." Many of the songs contain a protagonist and they have a plot and development, making them a genuine story.

Not all of the songs, however, are straightforward storysongs and that shakes the album up a bit. Songs like "Love Love Love" allow Of Monsters And Men to exhibit a stronger sense of imagery than storytelling. With lines like "And these fingertips / Will never run through your skin / And those bright blue eyes / Can only meet mine across the room filled with people that are less important than you. / All 'cause you love, love, love / When you know I can't love" ("Love Love Love"), Of Monsters And Men illustrates that they have something to say about relationships. They bring their sense of imagery from their storysongs to their songs about relationships and emotions to make the universal elements about which they sing feel more specific.

Unfortunately, many of the songs also have a sense of repetition to them that plays poorly over multiple listens. When the singers sing "The tallest man I've ever seen afloat, / On a boat, on a boat. / On a boat, on a boat. / He keeps his only son close by. / In a bag, in a bag. / In a bag on his back. / Can you chase this fire away? / Can you chase this fire away" ("Lakehouse"), the song becomes more ponderous with each listen.

In the end, My Head Is An Animal averages out; it is an interesting blend of music, vocals and lyrics, but the audacity and originality of the first song or two gets replayed and the lines get repeated until the result is far less fresh than when one hears one of the Of Monsters And Men tracks on the radio. For sure, the band stands out against the monotonous drecht that passes for popular music today, but they create a niche on My Head Is An Animal that quickly turns into their own, personal rut.

The best track is their breakout hit "Little Talks" and the low point is "From Finner," which has some of the more banal rhymes.

For other, former, Artist Of The Month works, please check out my reviews of:
Endless Forms Most Beautiful - Nightwish
Ten Love Songs - Susanne Sundfor
Britney Jean (Deluxe Edition) - Britney Spears


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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