Review Summary: You think you know me, but do you really?
It’s fair to assume by this point that most people know what the Icelandic six-piece Of Monsters and Men are all about. They make tremendously catchy indie-pop with some of the best vocal harmonies in the entire genre, and you’ve heard ‘Little Talks’ about a thousand times whether you like the song or not. Their success has caused them to, perhaps a bit unfairly, become lumped into the same category as other indie-pop bands that rose to prominence around the same time (The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, etc.). Aside from the fact that Of Monsters and Men are expressly more
talented, they’ve also displayed creative chops that few of their airtime-sharing amigos could muster. Few people discuss Beneath the Skin
– their more subdued and forward-thinking sophomore effort – because it lacks a ‘Little Talks’, despite the fact that the album is better in just about every way imaginable. Now, with Fever Dream
, I’m convinced that this sort of trajectory was their goal all along. The band made its money, and now they have true freedom to create. So I’m forced to re-examine them as a whole, and ask…do we really know who they are？
is yet another departure from what we perceive to be their norm. My Head Is An Animal
was their indie-folk opus, overflowing with saccharine melodies, whistles, handclaps, and all things memorable. Beneath the Skin
did just what the title implies and reflected inward for a more meaningful experience. In 2019, Of Monsters and Men seem to be more interested in gleaming synths and unpredictable song structures – a bold step away from their comfortable indie niche and straight into the pop arena. Despite the rampant connotations that are likely conjured by that statement alone, this is not an attempt to sell out. As I said, they already reached their commercial peak. Fever Dream
is more like an exploratory dive into the freedom that comes with ditching drums and acoustic guitars for infinite possibility. It’s a vision that we can hear beginning to come to life on the plaintive ballad ‘Waiting for the Snow’, where vocoder-tinged verses float atop elegant piano lines that are echoed by a cold, detached electronic heartbeat. It’s a yearning that consistently bubbles beneath the surface, releasing energy in spurts as it does on the lush, gorgeous flow of ‘Sleepwalker’ or the all-out pop track that is ‘Róróró’ – a mesmerizing vocal display from the once-complementary-now-in-charge Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir. Despite all of Fever Dream
’s pop-leaning ambition, it’s still an experience that longs for the quiet, contemplative human experiences. The band may be careening a plethora of soundscapes here, but its heart remains in the same place: campfires, romance, and star-lit skies. This is the most transparent during ‘Under a Dome’, where Ragnar Þórhallsson reassumes lead vocals for a slow-building penultimate track that culminates in a raw emotional outro, “So fuck all the times that I've fallen (And I'm falling) / Creature, you're part of this loving game.”
Eight years ago, I never would have pegged Of Monsters and Men as the kind of band that would create an album like this. When I heard the propulsive folk-pop of the lead single, ‘Alligator’, I assumed we were in for a return to the days of My Head Is An Animal
– and that their sophomore gem would go down in the books as little more than an interesting detour in an otherwise predictable career. Kudos to them for fooling me – and more likely all of us – with that red herring of a single, and for doubling down on their commitment to themselves. When Þórhallsson taunts, “you think you know me, but do you really？” on the record’s second track ‘Ahay’, it feels like a revelation. This probably isn’t the perfect analogy, but their career trajectory thus far reminds me very much of MGMT’s: a wildly successful commercial debut followed by a prompt retreat into their own artistic vision. Of course detractors will point out that Fever Dream
is the group’s sleekest and most overproduced record to date, but in this case, it’s important to note that creating pop music does not necessarily signify a cash grab. Of Monsters and Men use Fever Dream
to reject the expectation that they’re nothing more than a “made-for-radio” indie folk band, and based on these results I’d tend to agree with them. This could be the group’s strongest offering to date, and it’s a noticeable few steps outside of their comfort zone. Here’s to hoping that they continue to wander astray.