ICELAND’S Of Monsters And Men have been gaining a steady groundswell of support since they won Músíktilraunir, a prestigious annual battle of the bands competition, in 2010.
For a young band Of Monsters And Men possess an impressive sense of restraint, only allowing their sound to become overwhelming at key moments.
Invigorated by this result the band have progressed to achieve astonishing success, first at home and then in America. Their US debut single ‘Little Talks’ reached number one in the US alternative chart and was followed by the album My Head Is An Animal which, at number six in the Billboard Chart, is the highest placing Icelandic album in US history.
This week the band brought their jangling, folk inflected melodies to Manchester’s Academy 3 on the second stop of their UK tour in promotion of the album’s release in the UK.
The band, officially a sextet (although on many occasions, including the Manchester gig, that number has swollen to seven) are fronted by male/female duo Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar ‘Raggi’ Þórhallsson; a pair brimming with excitement and wide eyed pleasure at their first tastes of sharing their music across the world. The remaining band members deftly shift between accordions, trumpets, keyboards, glockenspiels, guitars and drums in addition to providing backing vocals, hand claps and shouted choruses.
If the words ‘Arcade Fire’ spring to mind that’s understandable, the Icelanders share the expansive sound and mystical emotive force that brought Will Butler and co to international prominence after their debut album Funeral. Far from being derivative, however, Of Monsters And Men play with a light hearted touch and a youthful exuberance that is refreshing and beguiling in equal measures. Qualities that were most apparent during ‘Mountain Sound’, ‘From Finner’ and ‘Little Talks’. The latter two were clear stand outs of the set, prompting the incongruently rowdy crowd to continue the songs long past the end. After an additional four bars of ‘From Finner’ from the audience the band were inspired to launch back into the song to wild applause in the crowning moment of the gig.
Although in an intimate setting and playing a plethora of instruments the band found ways to accommodate the subtleties of their various sounds. Accordions segued into trumpets which melted into pianos, all the while framed exquisitely by the versatility of Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson’s drumming.
Furthermore, despite the beautiful fragility of Nanna and Raggi’s voices there was a force behind their vocals which kept the lyrics floating above the majestic backing. For a young band Of Monsters And Men possess an impressive sense of restraint, only allowing their sound to become overwhelming at key moments; the soaring ‘Six Weeks’ being one of those moments last night.
Perhaps the greatest joy of the set was watching the band adjust to the jubilant crowd. Although at first baffled by the energy and vocality of the gig-goers it eventually dawned on them that they were in the midst of an adoring fan base. The surprised looks frequently flashed between the two singers and their apparent shock during the massive singalong to ‘Your Bones’ and ‘King and Lionheart’ endearingly exposed a band still not at ease with their deserved popularity.
Nanna’s claim that “we want you to get on the bus and come on tour with us” seemed genuine and encapsulated the sense that this young band are about to experience a success beyond the limits of their current fantasies.
Follow Alex on Twitter @AlH_HlA
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