We stepped out onto Reynisfjara – the black sand beach. As waves fell into land around us, we watched the colours in the sky bloom white and orange against the black. It was almost as though we were waiting for something incredible to happen at the very edge of the world. And in our ears, a little Icelandic folk band sang of ships and storms, mountains and wolves… like something out of the Sagas…
When Siggi had suggested we listen to “traditional Icelandic music” on our drive along the south coast, we had anticipated Viking war cries and songs of Oden… of course, we should have known better. Sigur Rós’ “Hoppípolla” faded into Björk’s shouty classic, “It’s Oh So Quiet”. Zing! Boom! It worked – a curious blend of gentle ethereal and dazzling quirk – set against the volcanic backdrop of Iceland. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a road trip quite like it. Just when I was starting to think it was entirely possible that things couldn’t get much better than endless Sigur-Björk, my life was interrupted by a simple acoustic intro and the lyrics: jumping up and down the floor, my head is an animal…
Now, whenever I listen to Of Monsters and Men (OMAM) I’m taken right back to that moment on Reynisfjara.
Siggi describes them as “Iceland’s newest treasure” and I couldn’t agree more. Easy to love for their folksy harmonics and soaring vocals, OMAM are paving the way for a new generation of musical Icelanders. They’ve captured the spirit of Iceland – the shear, dramatic landscapes, the warm people – it’s all there in the lyrics, but what I love most is that they make no apologies. They are not afraid to be OMAM, which is what I’ve taken from their latest offering, Fever Dream.
I’ve patiently waited four years for this album to surface. I wasn’t necessarily expecting more of the same – their second album, Beneath The Skin, had already made subtle waves away from their debut – but I must admit, I was initially apprehensive about this one.
It’s a brave move to go against a trusted formula. Their single ‘Little Talks’ was an international success, a popular, happy-go-lucky folk song that was impossible not to love. Fever Dream is a completely different animal. It’s fervent and catching, daring to be different from it’s predecessors in every way.
“Alligator” is as feisty as it’s namesake. It has all the trademarks of a classic OMAM track with added voracity. Nanna’s voice is unmistakably the real triumph with this track – there is an assertiveness to her vocals that just works with the lyrics: wake me up, I’m fever dreaming. It’s a statement track, and it builds up an energy that I’d expected to carry through the album.
Instead, it cuts straight into the more sedate and wistful “Ahay”. On a first listen, this seems at odds with the album, but actually Fever Dream places more emphasis on the dream than the fever. “Róróró” bares similarities, but makes interesting use of a fairly simple base track to highlight the full range of Nanna’s vocals as she laments: oh, what a shame that I row to the edges so that I can fall off. “Vulture, Vulture” and “Wild Roses” do bring some of the energy back, but on a slightly more constrained level.
OMAM have to be admired for the risks they’ve taken with this album. They’ve created a dreamscape in pop, when they could have easily fallen back to what they know as reliable. This album doesn’t leave me with the same feels as their debut, but I still think they’re one of Iceland’s newest (and greatest) treasures, and I can’t wait to relive Icelandic memories at their Manchester show in November.
Words by Kathy Halliday