Of Monsters And Men
December 16th, 2012 // The Riviera Theater // Chicago, IL
Words: Ryan Bahniuk
Photos: Ashley Osborn
One of the more intriguing trends in independent music over the last two years has been the rise of folk elements and how these songs have crossed over to the popular charts. Even more intriguing is how global this trend has been. Coming out the United States, the Head and the Heart have toured nationally on the festival scene and the Lumineers have scored a top ten hit and a few major commercial spots. England’s Mumford and Sons have become a household name after their second album, Babel, became one of the highest selling albums of 2012. However, one of the more surprising folk acts to break into the American independent scene and then crack the billboard charts in 2012 was Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men.
I have never been to Iceland. I can’t speak Icelandic. I couldn’t spell Reykjavik before I looked it up on Wikipedia. For whatever reason, however, listening to Of Monsters and Men at the Riviera on Sunday just reminded me of the small island country in the North Atlantic. This probably has to do with my stereotypical view of Iceland as a picturesque forested land of endless coasts, harbors, and cold salty air. However, I think it rested more in the storytelling lyrical styles of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Raggi Þórhallssonin. Back and forth they sung, telling the stories of seafaring sailors, living in unison of nature, and content loneliness.
The two highlight songs of the night were “From Finner” and “King and Lionheart”. These two songs, like many from Of Monsters and Men, use the ocean as a backdrop reinforced by marine language, oceanic rhythm, and sound effects simulating the creaking of wooden ships. “From Finner” is a story about people traveling by sea, with an anthropomorphic boat that reassures them that regardless of “the rocking of his house” that they will be safe “from there on out”. These travelers persist with their voyage even though “the salty ocean wind, made the seagulls cry”. It was hard to listen through Of Monsters and Men’s set at 9:30 Club and not feel like you were suddenly in a venue in Iceland.
The general themes of Of Monsters and Men’s songs are highly reflective and metaphorical. Nothing illustrates this more than “Sloom”, which last Sunday Raggi described as “a story told in reverse”. The song ends with the meeting of a man who smiled at the subject, making the subject recant “thoughts like these that keep [her]on [her]feet.” These thoughts become the chorus of the song: “So love me mother, and love me father and love my sister as well.” The subject is reassured by the thought of a loving family. As the song progresses in reverse, the subject keeps these thoughts in mind, becoming a better man taking the plunge into forgiveness. Finally, at the beginning of the song, the subject parts with his/her inspiration with the marine metaphor: “the sea said goodbye to the shore.”
Of course, when listening to music produced by a group as skilled at storytelling as Of Monsters and Men, lyrics can be interpreted however you would like. That is largely the goal of reflective and metaphorical writing. I don’t think in today’s music, and especially in today’s alternative folk music, that a band accomplishes this better than Of Monsters and Men. This was on full display last Sunday at the 9:30 Club, as the band relayed their lyrical and musical skill on every audience member present. Nobody left the venue that night without thinking a little bit about how those mysterious lyrics applied to their own lives.