Monday, September 10, 2012

Of Monsters and Men

Come on then how many Icelandic bands can you name who have made an impression on the subconscious of the average British music fan? I'd bet that The Sugarcubes, Bjork and Sigur Ros are possibly the only ones, only the real anoraks would have heard of and sought out music by Trubrot, Eik or Pelikan.

In Iceland access to any sought of rock music radio was off limits for most of the 20th century. This was because the radio stations in Iceland were, until the late 60's, state owned and just as us Brits grew up in the early to mid 1960's listening to the 'pirates' so youngsters in Iceland got there pop music fix from non Icelandic outlets, in their case it was the USAF base which played music to relieve the boredom of those stationed in that outpost of the cold war. Just as the myth of sailors returning to Liverpool with arms full of American 45's encouraged the nascent music scene in the late 1950's in the UK so Iceland's cultural history is awash with tales of fishing fleets arriving after weeks chasing shoals of cod around the North Atlantic with copies of the latest Elvis Presley single.

As radio control relaxed so the mid to late seventies saw Prog Rock dominate the local music scene, this resulted in a punk revolution (sound familiar?) which produced The Sugarcubes who through regular airings on the late John Peel's radio shows and earnest support in the British music press earned a decent following in the U.K. The Sugarcubes lead singer was of course Björk Guðmundsdóttir who over the last twenty years has embraced almost every musical genre, apart from reggae and rap, via a ten album career which has been constantly evolving and challenging (to the listener) in equal measure, unfortunately her place in British minds is more likely to be the result of tabloid headlines rather than her impressive musical output, there's nothing  the tabs like more than a naked member of royalty than possibly a foreigner they can accuse of being 'odd or barking'.

 The next big thing from Iceland to hit the musical charts in the UK were Sigur Ros who over the course of half a dozen albums (and a great deal of help from Sir David Attenborough) have sold enough copies of their albums in the U.K to have been awarded gold discs for four of those albums. Sigur Ros, like Bjork, aren't exactly known for their prolific output with gaps of three years between albums being the norm.

To the short list above we can begin to pencil in the names of Of Monsters and Men, Soley, Samaris (not to be confused with that hairy Greek who plays for Celtic), Lay Low (Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir) and Mammut.

Of Monsters and Men seem to have stolen a march on the other artists listed with their album My Head Is An Animal which was released last year in Iceland and in April of this year across the rest of Europe.  The band have evolved from one member to four members to six members, they are challenging Arcade Fire for most multi instrumental members of a band, why play just one when you can play three or four equally well. Their music is hard to categorise, founder member Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, who shares lead vocals with  Ragnar "Raggi" Pórhallsson (all hail Ragnar!) sounds like early Bjork on some tracks (particularly the Icelandic accent pronunciation of English words), Régine Chassagne (Arcade Fire) on others and even Johanna Söderberg (First Aid Kit) on others.  Just as Bjork did some twenty odd years ago with Debut so OMM have taken several musical styles as an inspiration, mixed them up and produced something that sounds like something else you have heard but can't quite work out where. The only track which sounds definitely like anything I've heard before is Little Talks which sounds like an outtake from Arcade Fire's second album Neon Bible, in particular the track 'No Cars Go', and a criticism that begins 'they sound like Arcade Fire on one track' isn't a criticism at all really is it.

Anyway Of Monsters and Men's debut album has entered the UK charts this week at Number Three which is something, considering that Sigur Ros have yet to get higher than number five in the UK album charts. Bjork's debut album, called Debut, was double platinum in the UK at a time when sales of albums (1993) were considerably higher than now, it spawned four top thirty singles and provided Vauxhall with a theme for their 1995 British television advertising campaign, an honour currently held by Feeder.  Whether Of Monsters and Men can emulate the success of their predecessors in the British charts remains to be seen but in an age when we seem to be over exposed to manufactured talent and tat in equal measures the emergence of  something original (see also Foster The People, First Aid Kit and Dry The River among other bands currently enjoying some decent UK media exposure), is most wecolme.

This is the band playing 'Little Talks' live from their hotel room!


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