It has been almost a year since My Head Is An Animal was released in the Icelandic sextet’s homeland, and since then, with a little help from a viral KEXP radio video and their own national radio success, they have become one of this year’s most unexpected success stories in the British charts, as well as just about everywhere else. As a result, their debut album – and it’s easy to forget this is still just their debut – My Head Is An Animal, has been long awaited by hardcore fans and chart-followers alike.
After a few month’s of listening to Little Talks every time I switched on the radio, I decided to avoid ‘spoilers’ from the album and see if it could stand by itself, free from the hype. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard album opener Dirty Paws which, though containing plenty of their now trademarked bursts of ‘hey’, I found contained an abundance of creative euphemisms, powerful instrumentation and lyrics like a cohesive John Lennon as Raggi and Nanna – the guitar playing singers of the band – tell an imaginative story of woodland creatures at war with the bees. Once track number two, the equally enthralling and inventive King And Lionheart, came on I was reminded of the rest of the album, and torn from their wonderfully crafted world. Songs like these, along with Slow And Steady and the heart-breaking tale of unrequited feelings Love Love Love, are a great reminder that, although they are known for their trumpet blasts and chants, Of Monsters And Men do have a soft side.
Trumpets and thrashing guitars aside, it is the lyrics that really separate this band from the rest of the alternative folk acts around nowadays. Rooted in nature and fantastical stories, which I suppose is expected from an Icelandic band, there an intelligent and self-awareness to Raggi and Nanna’s songwriting which means that rather than writing simply about Iceland and its superior scenery, they use this to fuel their obviously wild imaginations and create their own brilliantly odd stories. Also, though I’m sure that they are sick of this association, after Sigur Rós, it is a relief to have an Icelandic band that you can sing along to.
I can imagine that this was not the album that a lot of people were expecting, but Of Monsters And Men have managed to show that they are not a band dependent on hype or a few powerful singles, but a single-minded creative six-piece with an abundance of fantastical stories to tell. Album highlights include Mountain Sound, where Raggi and Nanna sing how they ‘Sleep until the sun goes down’ with enough vigour to keep the chorus in your head all night, and Numb Bears, a relatively short and twee number with its whistled intro and endearing vocals, which is the perfect end to an album full of blasting singalongs and steady love songs. My Head Is An Animal, full of building boats from bones, messenger dragonflies, faraway travels and the haunting spirits of lost loved-ones, is an intelligent and powerful album, a showcase of idyllic Icelandic imagination from a band who already have the world in their hands.