When Of Monsters and Men made their big debut with My Head is an Animal in 2011 I thought they were a charming Icelandic indie folk band. Unfortunately, their return nearly four years later with Beneath the Skin leaves me feeling that Of Monsters and Men is decidedly less charming and decidedly more droning and formulaic.
The album begins with the pounding bass drum of “Crystals”, the first single and arguably the most noteworthy track found on Beneath the Skin. This catchy tune rhythmically oscillates between a docile verse and a powerful chorus while building in energy and sound. “Crystals” does what most good first tracks should by grabbing the listener’s attention.
But my excitement quickly faded as I was barraged with a series of tracks that drowned away my excitement in a river of monotony. The midsection of Beneath the Skin is laced with very calming light indie rock, but with most songs lasting nearly four minutes, I found myself lost in relatively drab pulsating guitar and drum combos with overdone lyrical repetition. By the end of “Slow life” I had almost had enough of the dulcet building sound that is characteristic of this album.
Fortunately “Organs” is exactly the palate cleanser that I needed seven tracks into this sophomore effort. Ironically, “Organs” is the only track on this album with any guts and it excels in its ability to break the mold. This stripped backed tune feels heartfelt and raw and the perceived honestly paired with the shift from what I expected reclaimed my attention and had me listening to the fantastic lyrics. Also of note is the brilliant use of string bass on this track to reinforce the vocals and compensate for the lack of the coursing drum that usually drives Of Monsters and Men’s sunny tunes.
It may have been the well placed reprieve of “Organs”, but the latter half of this album felt significantly more appreciable. Exultant horn melodies shine on “Black Water” while the vocalists continue their delicate dance of alternating seamlessly. “We Sink” does well to close the album with a more powerful instrumentation than most other tracks and less polished vocals that contrast well with some beautiful instrumental bridges.
As a five piece, Of Monsters and Men manage to play a wide variety of instruments well. The tracks on Beneath the Skin are melodic and very nice to listen to. Unfortunately, nice music does not always mean interesting music and that’s where that album falls short for me. If you’re looking for soothing background noise I’d implore you to give Beneath the Skin a listen, but if you’re seeking a more immersive experience, it may get under your skin in all the wrong ways.