Of Monsters and Men

Photo by Gabe Rosenberg

Of the well-known musicians coming out of Iceland – Sigur Rós, Björk, and now Of Monsters and Men – the indie folk band Of Monsters and Men is really the only one you’ll hear on mainstream radio. Since their 2011 debut album My Head is An Animal received a North American re-release through Universal Music Group, the band has been an instant success. That album debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200, the best performance of any Icelandic band in the chart’s history, and the lead single “Little Talks” went 3x platinum, making its way into the Billboard Top 20 and topping the US Alternative Songs chart.

As a result, the band – with music closer to Mumford & Sons or a less daring Arcade Fire than either of its native contemporaries – has enjoyed a huge amount of success playing music festivals and selling out venues across the country. At Stage AE last Wednesday night, despite competing for a crowd against Glen Hansard at the Arts Festival across the river, Of Monsters and Men found themselves with a comfortable audience of a few thousand eager fans.  Supporting band Half Moon Run, hailing from Montreal, was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd, many of whom were familiar with the group’s harmony-strewn indie rock.

The electric energy of Half Moon Run, however, was not quite matched by Of Monsters and Men, who came on playing My Head opener “Dirty Paws” from behind a white curtain before it dropped at the chorus. Certainly, Of Monsters and Men put on a great show, their stage filled with giant paper balloons and brightly colored lights. Live, the full ensemble with horns, a prominent drummer, and lead by singer-guitarists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson translated their music perfectly to the stage, sounding beautiful and perfectly transcendent in the night air. They’re a wonderful campfire sing-a-long band for that reason.

I’d like to think, however, that there is more to Of Monsters and Men than comes across in their live show, lasting not much longer than their album, because it was a performance without spontaneity or much on-stage chemistry. I loved the vigor of the drummer, placed in the center of the stage, and the skill of the musicians definitely showed as well. But the movements of the singers and guitarists, stepping to and from the microphone in unison came across scripted, too neat and organized, much different from the chaotic yet confident crescendos of The National the night before, or even from the remarkably similar Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes the week previous. Call it the conforming influence of a label (see: Motown) or call it a lack of originality, but Of Monsters and Men didn’t quite stand up to their monster hype.




Half Moon Run Little Talks My Head is An Animal Of Monsters and Men Stage AE

Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott:

Vampire Weekend, "Diane Young" - I'm still on the fence about this song because the autotune really is kind of annoying, but I like everything else that goes around it. Despite cribbing from Paul Simon and Talking Heads, this over-hyped band sounded fresh when it first popped up, and two albums later, that feeling remains.

Of Monsters and Men, "Mountain Sound" - Here I am doing my job of breaking new bands on the 9:13 Buzz. Just kidding. There's almost no way you haven't heard this band, unless you only listen to talk radio,
in which case you're probably not reading this anyway. This play was a nod to summer concerts, and this one should be a highlight (Stage AE, June 12, as it's one of the few bands coming we haven't seen before. Whether you like Top 40 or indie rock, it's hard to argue that Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir has a gorgeous voice.


New Music Personal Picks


Morning Mix Of Monsters and Men Scott Mervis The 9:13 Buzz Vampire weekend
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