Thursday, July 2, 2015

Beneath The Skin - Of Monsters and Men

When I first heard "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men, I remember not being particularly impressed or captured by the sound. Fast forward to now, and I regularly enjoy playing their first album on my record player (curtesy of my sister). The quirkiness and indie sound of this Icelandic group with intriguing names grew on me, enough that I've done a cover of their song "From Finner" and cannot get enough of their music. So, naturally, the announcement of their sophomore album made me excited. I was anxious to hear where they went next with their sound, which was unique, but could be limiting if they stuck to exactly what they knew. Luckily, they did not fall into the sophomore slump.

From the start, you can tell it's Of Monsters and Men; their sound is signature. However, you can also hear some differences. Mainly, it is the overall tone of the music, leaning far more towards the somber side than their debut album. While My Head Is An Animal had a lighthearted nature to it, leaving you with a warm and fuzzy feeling, Beneath The Skin feels much more bittersweet. This is not to say that they don't have cheery or happy moments; songs like "Empire" and "Crystals" have that more lighthearted feeling. The overall feeling of the album, however, is much heavier and darker in terms of tone. "Humans", for example, doesn't make you want to dance around like "King and Lionheart" or "Little Talks" might have done in the past, but it is still easily identifiable as Of Monsters and Men. The songs all tend to take on a slower pace as well, none of them feeling terribly fast or upbeat. There is a more epic, larger sense to these songs, something that I think was hinted at in their first album but never truly utilized.  The drums play heavily into this, the beats and rhythms used creating a larger sound. "Wolves Without Teeth" is a great example of the use of drums. The beat is something that you can't help but tapping along to, while simultaneously building the song from the subdued verses to the thrilling chorus. "Hunger" also prominently features the drums; they're the driving force of the energy in the song, especially into the bridge with the dual vocals from the bands vocalists, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson (on another note, what cool names!). OMAN also use the horns that were common on their first album to a different effect this time around, more as accents than the main picture. On "Black Water", for example, the horns are used with the gang vocals on the bridge to make a moment that feels like something from a movie soundtrack.

The last song I'll talk about is my favorite of the album so far, "Thousand Eyes". This one definitely starts off with the darker feel, almost haunting in the bareness of the beginning. The slow build in this song is incredible; it's past the two minute mark before the drums and guitars really start to kick in. When they do, however, the vocals fade out, and the way that the instruments erriely climb higher and higher is enough to give you chills. The height of the track is absolutely incredible; it's such a massive sound, it's almost hard to believe. The song doesn't follow a traditional structure of verse chorus etc, but instead has two parts; the vocals, and then the instruments. All together, it creates a piece that you would be hard to match. It reflects a soundtrack feel, especially in the build, and I would be surprised if it didn't end up in a movie or a trailer for one.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the sophomore effort from Of Monsters and Men. It's different from their debut album, but that's good; too many bands get trapped in their own sound. They retained their core feel, but expanded to new territories.

Rating: 4/5
Recommended: "Thousand Eyes", "Human", "Black Water", "Hunger"