Icelandic folk pop band Of Monsters and Men captivate an international audience with their catchy sounds and enchanted tales – of monsters, five men, one maiden (but no mice)
These songsmiths might have taken inspiration from Steinbeck’s literary classic Of Mice and Men, but then again associations and fantastic analogies are the name of the game when it comes to Of Monsters and Men. Paragons of eternal childhood, these would-be trolls and elves could easily come from where the wild things are. In their own, inimitable way they conjure up tangible images from tightly-woven narratives and sketched out, child-like views of the world. Driven by their own lively and story-based folk pop, they not only scaled the top of their native Icelandic charts, but also sold a great number of their debut album My Head Is An Animal in the US and Germany.
But let’s rewind a little. Back in the days, Singer Nanna used to have her own solo project Songbird. And when she met current band mate Ragnar, while looking for a live band, their interlaced vocals sounded so harmonic that they decided to carry on together, thus marking the official birth of Of Monsters and Men. For a description of their joint project, look no further than their own Facebook page: “We used to be birds, but now we’re monsters.” Their reason for turning their thoughts into song: “Iceland is very isolated and this feeling can be translated to music”, or so Nanna explains. “We are somehow caught up in our own little world.” Telling the world about this isolation becomes a welcome means of escape. And when you are as skilled and sensitive as Of Monsters and Men, this recipe is bound to work: Their current success has literally catapulted them out of isolation.
After winning the Icelandic band contest Músiktilraunir in 2010, their songs were picked up by Seattle’s influential radio broadcaster KEXP, written about in the wide and ramified realm of the music blogosphere and finally covered by US magazine Rolling Stone. From obscurity to fame in less than a year – crowned by recent US TV appearances on major late night shows like Jimmy Fallon or Jay Leno.
Although most bands shy away from comparisons, Of Monsters and Men consider it an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as Arcade Fire or Mumford & Sons. At the same time, they pursue their very own, individual sound, characterised by an almost magical grasp of musical storytelling. From Finner, for example, tells the story of a whale that carries a house on its back, inviting people to come along for a lengthy adventure or two – a story the six-piece band came across by chance and then translated into an expansive folk ballad. Or the impressive Six Weeks, a song about the struggle of Hugo Glass, a trapper left to die in the American wilderness after a grizzly attack in 1820. Glass managed to survive and spent weeks on end trying to find his way back to civilisation – stricken by illness and alone. All of these are perfect stories to inspire children, romantics and daydreamers. For a visual approximation of this particular view of the world, check out the video to their hit single Little Talks where singer Nanna, the band’s only female member, conjures up memories of her famous compatriot Björk. After all, any discussion of Icelandic music will invariably turn to the island state’s famous poster child. Just like Björk, Nanna nurtures her own and distinctive, folk-steeped vocal style, characterised by a trail of brief sounds that invariably end in a whisper. With a UK release in the works, their album brims with sensitive and melancholic tales, channelled through happy and hands-on melodies. On first listen, the rhythm of My Head Is An Animal is bound to sneak into your bones – and you will soon find yourself singing along to the band’s idiosyncratic stories. So, it should come as no surprise that Of Monsters and Men are currently hailed as the next big thing with their sprightly, life-affirming sounds. With just a few chords, they invite us to join them in their daydream adventures – and we are only too happy to oblige.
For more information on Of Monsters and Men please check out their official homepage.