By: The Busted Amp Staff
DEREK: Iceland’s darlings, Of Monsters and Men, roared onto the global stage in late 2011 with the release of their debut album, My Head Is an Animal. With radio friendly singles like “Dirty Paws” and “Little Talks”, the album peaked at #1 on both the Rock and Alternative US charts and garnered a platinum certification in the US 2 years later.
OMAM’s sophomore release Beneath the Skin harkens back to many of the elements present in their debut -- Swelling, sing-along choruses, many “whoa” and “oh” vocals (but less of their distinctive “heys” like on “Little Talks”), and similar lyrical themes of animals and nature. But instead of having multiple catchy singles as MHIAA did, the band chose a more nuanced approach, including darker, ominous, and even urgent aspects to songs. The opening track, “Crystals”, thunders into focus with a rumbling drum rhythm that frames the first verse and slowly builds to a crescendo before being released during the chorus. It’s those furious drums that set the pace for the album, using electric guitar effects to amplify the swells and builds that accompany many of its songs. There’s no doubt as to why this was released as the first single; it's easily the catchiest song on the album.
The beginning of the third track, “Hunger”, could have easily been put together by the band the xx, with minimalist vocals from Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, atmospheric effects, and single strummed guitar. Co-vocalist Ragnar Þórhallsson even joins her in singing “I’m drowning/I’m drowning” in their best Jamie xx/Romy Madley Croft styling before the song finally breaks away and takes on the tried and true Of Monsters and Men sound that we’ve become accustomed to from the last album.
This tried and true sound becomes a recurring pattern throughout the album. Many of the songs, save for the more melancholy feel, could have easily been on MHIAA and vice versa . While this isn’t a bad thing necessarily, for a band that I was looking forward to hearing a new direction from, all I really heard was My Head Is an Animal 2.0. On the surface, nothing on this album makes it any better or worse than their first release; there are no surprises or notable changes in their sound, and there’s nothing of note that signifies the band taking a large step forward in their sound. In short, this is a passable, and otherwise safe release.
My Number: 7/10
JOSEPH: Well, I agree with you, Derek, that this is My Head is an Animal 2.0. Most of the time, I would not be ok with this, however in this day and age where we just had Mumford & Sons make a big deal about “going electric” and then dropping a very underwhelming The National rip-off, I’m glad these guys did more of the same. Their shout choruses have always been great for me to sing-along to in the car, even if their lyrics are rather shallow. After all, one of the albums more recent singles, Empire, has a refrain that simply says, “An empire for you/An empire for two.” Wow. That is some deep stuff right there.
However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To me, Of Monsters and Men have always just been a very pleasant band to listen to, and this continues with Beneath the Skin. Even if this pleasantry is superficial. That said, there are elements of the band advancing their sound on the album’s bonus tracks. In Backyard, the band experiments with electronic drums. While this song can be considered a bit of a miss, the other bonus track, Winter Mind, is what Mumford & Sons electronic experiment Wilder Mind should have sounded like. If Of Monsters and Men take their third album in this direction, I would be very excited. And they would’ve done a better job than Mumford & Sons! No I’m not still upset about that album at all why do you ask?
Anyway, my favorite song on this album has got to be Human. The song opens with a beautiful background vocal from Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and a very whimsical guitar line, and the song builds to the refrain, which just might be my favorite refrain of any Of Monsters and Men song. The kick drum keeps the pace going, and Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir's background vocals really make the album soar. Oh, and there’s an unusual guitar solo too, so that’s awesome.
In conclusion, most of the time, I wouldn’t like more of the same, but I do feel like it was welcome in this rare case. It may make their live shows a little boring, with a lot of their music sounding the same, but this album is still catchy and fun to listen to. The instrument/vocal hooks are definitely more refined than the first time around, and Human/Crystals have been stuck in my head for a while now. Also, to build on your point from earlier, kudos to them for getting rid of the “Heys” and just going with “Oooohs” in their songs this time around. The Lumineers definitively killed that in 2012.
My Number: 8/10
Our Final Verdict: 7.5/10
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.