A series of happy coincidences introduced me to the Laneway Festival (or St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, as it is also known) sometime towards the end of last year. The lineup of artists performing this time around was diverse and brilliant; the fact that Bat for Lashes was also going to be there was all I needed to convince myself to buy tickets and attend it. This also aligned quite neatly with the fact that I was travelling around the east (and by east I imply a very tight circuit around Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand) through January this year.
I attended Laneway with the primary intention of witnessing the glorious Bat for Lashes perform and to a certain extent to also see Tame Impala, who were amongst the few bands at the festival I’d actually heard before. I’d hurriedly researched the other bands performing, but I thoroughly missed looking up a band called Of Monsters and Men. The first time I’d ever heard them was when I heard them live that blisteringly hot afternoon on the 26th at the festival.
It might not have exactly been love at first sound, but it’s pretty much the closest thing I’ve experienced to it.
I’m not going to pretend to know how to pronounce or accurately spell the names of the folks that make up the band, so I’ll let Wikipedia paraphrase for me:
Of Monsters and Men is a five-piece indie folk/indie pop band from Iceland, formed in 2010. The members are co-singer/guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, co-singer/guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson,and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson.
Their music is eclectic and multi-instrumental (all bands tend to be multi-instrumental, if you think about it, but I’m referring to the pipes, accordions and glockenspiels these guys also actively perform with) with a sound that is both indie and folksy, amongst many other things. The lyrics evoke mythical fantastic imageries (in a vein similar to Bat for Lashes) whereas their sound is akin to that of bands like Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire.
Most great contemporary bands stand of the shoulders of so many older great bands and that their aural DNA is so rich because it contains the experience and archetypes from so much music history. This is probably why (in my opinion) Of Monsters and Men sound so very familiar and feel so instantly likeable. Their music is fresh and new and yet very, very familiar.
The first song I’d like to introduce the band to you with is one called Little Talks. No slow starts here, this one’s meant to be a concentrated dose of what makes the band so special, a super catchy intro on pipes and a soulful duet between Nanna and Ragnar. This song is off their first EP, Into The Woods.
Also from Into The Woods, this next song is called Six Weeks, a song that holds the very special memory of thousands of voices chanting the la-la-la bits of the chorus in unison.
The band released their début album My Head is an Animal in 2011. The first song from the album is one called Dirty Paws. The second line of the song is where the titular line of the album appears (Jumping up and down the floor/My head is an animal/And once there was an animal…). I found you a live version so you can experience the song in a similar fashion to how I did for the first time.
King and Lionheart is the second song from the album. This one’s amongst my personal favourites; the video is rife with fantastic furry creatures and what looks like a child of eastern and Norse mythological imagery.
Sloom is a song I only heard off the actual album (since they didn’t perform it at the festival). I choose to show it to you here because it’s a more purely acoustic (with some four guitars and vocals) sound, relative to the multi-instrumental-eclectic nature of their other songs. The version below is a live one (possibly before they had a name for the song), but you can click here for a link to the studio version, which does sound rich and beautiful in its own way.
Here’s a version of Your Bones. The song tends to sound terribly familiar once you hear it. The melody does sound a lot like Phantom Planet’s California. They’re very different songs; the more I listen to Your Bones the more distant it seems from anything else.
This is Lakehouse, beautiful to hear live, with people chanting the lyrics along with the band. Also, pipes.
The last song on My Head is an Animal is a song called Yellow Light. The song starts off with an quietness quite in the key of The XX (the band) and climbs upwards into a gentle multidimensional swell.
I’d like to end with one of my favourite songs from the album. Mountain Sound has currently been the default song that echoes through my brain when I’ve been walking about the city. It has all the things a song needs to successfully earworm itself deep into your brain (and you probably wouldn’t complain).
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The drawing you see on top of this article was made over the course of a few hours (in sweltering, blazing sunlight, which is why it took so long) during the early hours of the Laneway festival, while trying to fight sunstroke and sunburn. The final strokes of this drawing were made during the exact moment that the band was about three-fourths through their encore. Of Monsters and Men were the only ones to encore at Laneway this year (though this might have been thanks to the fact that the other stage wasn’t ready as yet once these guys were done, as much as the audience itself wanted more (we wanted more of most of the acts that day/night)). The song they chose to perform for their encore was one called Numb Bears, which will always hold a special place in me. I quite clearly remember how cheery and happy the crowd was at the end of the performance (the song is, as you will hear, rather catchy and cheerful) and more clearly how happy I was to have finished this sketch within this special moment that I was probably going to remember for the rest of my life (a little hyerbole never killed anyone).
YouTube song sources:
Little Talks- OfMonstersAndMenVEVO | Six Weeks, Dirty Paws - KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle | King And Lionheart - OfMonstersAndMenVEVO | Sloom- ReadTheHits, Ritz Her | Your Bones- bowerypresents | Lakehouse- KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle | Yellow Light- Adriano Ravon | Mountain Sound - OfMonstersAndMenVEVO | Numb Bears- ReadTheHits
Cover image property of Loretta Marie Perera, drawn by The New Vitruvian Man.
The music of Of Monsters and Men is currently available for purchase online in India only via Flipkart. Their music is apparently also internationally available on iTunes, but this is not the case in India, yet.