It’s not often that we disagree here at Thank Folk For That, but the new record from Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men managed to divide us. Fever Dream is only the band’s third album in almost a decade, so it’s fair to say that they’re probably a pretty scrupulous bunch when it comes to their creative decisions and personal opinion about the record’s new innovations have leaned towards it being their best yet. It’s a record with no filler and the high production values add a pleasing new dimension to their enigmatic folky origins, so combining a new record of hits with a back-catalogue full of iconic moments should make for a thrilling live show in Manchester this evening. Sadly, this is not entirely what transpires.
The new album is appropriately the focus and the band come out in storming fashion with ‘Alligator’. The track is perhaps a misleading opener; rasping power chords and guttural whoops launch the song, disguising the more refined elements to come and ‘Empire’ with its multifarious layers of guitar and clattering percussion follows to maintain the deceit. It’s thrilling stuff but the problem lies in the acoustics which seem muddy to say the least and this doesn’t suit the highly polished production values of tracks like ‘Ahay’ which follows.
Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s vocals seem to come off the worst, but the enthusiasm from the crowd during the epic ‘King and Lionheart’ perhaps disguises the issue to a degree as they bellow the chorus back to the band. The energy is maintained as the high tempo gait of ‘Mountain Sound’ follows, encouraging an equally partisan response from the sold-out venue. The more refined ‘Sleepwalker’ suffers though. It’s a shimmering pleasure on record, but these qualities are engulfed by the flat acoustics that prevail. A rare performance of ‘Human’ from their second album is a pleasing distraction but the synth-heavy ‘Wild Roses’ doesn’t fare as well. This is a real shame because the polished production values of these very good new tracks deserve to be heard as they were intended. The new album is a vivid affair with its pop sensibilities complimented by the band’s widescreen, epic approach. This is tangible during the emotional thrust of ‘Stuck in Gravity’, but it could have been so much more.
The band rattle though their setlist with very little pause. but we are informed that ‘Wars’ is a dance number and it really has that quality about it, possessing the spirit of the Bee Gees along with more contemporary disco routines in its sparkling chorus, animated basslines and sweeping synth motifs. It’s the moment on the record when you really begin to appreciate its permutations. The success of this with their fans is debatable however based on the energy of their response, and the band’s decision to focus on their debut during the tail end of the evening is a wise one and ‘Lakehouse’, ‘Little Talks’ and the partisan qualities of ‘Six Weeks’ close us out before the encore.
The gorgeous ‘Waiting for the Snow’ is once again affected by the muddy ambience; Nanna sits on the edge of the stage in an attempt to create an intimate atmosphere, but the crowd seem restless and only refocus when the opening strains of ‘Dirty Paws’ emerge. Of Monsters and Men could have closed here to acclaim and ‘Yellow Light’ is bit an underwhelming addition. There’s no denying the quality of their material this evening, but it was unfortunately let down by sound that failed to match their bold, colourful and emotional landscapes.
Words & Images by Iain Fox