If you missed it, my top impact prospects for 2012 piece went up yesterday, as did my quick reaction to Yoennis Cespedes signing with Oakland. My first draft blog post of the year went up today, talking SoCal high school kids, including probable top ten picks Luc Giolito and Max Fried.
I caught Of Monsters and Men’s debut single, “Little Talks,” on XMU over the weekend and became borderline-obsessed with it after just that one listen. The band won the Músiktilraunir, an Icelandic national battle of the bands, in 2010, although a look at the winners list tells me that doesn’t typically mean much beyond the small island’s coastlines. (The 2001 winner, Andlát, was a death metal act whose name translates as – wait for it – “Death.”) Of Monsters and Men seems ready to break out internationally on the strength of that single and the forthcoming album My Head is An Animal, which earned very strong reviews when it was released in Iceland last fall. I can’t profess much experience with Icelandic folk music, so it’s easier for me to define them in terms of other genres, and their first EP release, Into the Woods, shows a pretty broad base of styles that call to mind Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons, Doves, ska-punk, Irish folk music, and – of course – a little Sugarcubes too. (It’s on amazon and iTunes.)
“Little Talks” is the song to buy if you only want to buy one track, an upbeat horn-driven track with a riveting call-and-response vocal track from the group’s two lead singers, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson, the former singing about losing her tether to reality while the latter, her lover, tries to comfort her while expressing his grief at watching her mind wither. The most poignant back-and-forth gives the song its title, as Hilmarsdóttir sings, “There’s an old voice in my head that’s/holding me back,” to which Þórhallsson responds, “Well tell her that I miss our little talks.” Yet this story is layered over a hybrid of Irish drinking songs and the short-lived ska-punk movement of the mid-1990s, complete with raise-your-glasses shouts punctuating the gap in the lyrics following each chorus. I couldn’t get it out of my head after the first listen.
The other three tracks on the EP are all strong, but nothing is similar to “Little Talks” in style or feel. “Love Love Love,” the next-best track, reminded me a little of Norah Jones meets Alison Krauss, with Hilmarsdóttir expressing regret to a lover whose affection she can’t quite return. The closing track, “From Finner,” is probably the most Mumford-ish, with a gloomy percussion-heavy shuffle behind mournful vocals, ending each chorus with a “we’re so ha-ppy” that I don’t think we’re really supposed to believe. “Six Weeks” is your Arcade Fire-influenced track, heavier on the drums as well with a marching, almost Bonham-esque beat that shares the front of the stage with the group vocals. All four tracks appear on the full album, due out in April, but I wasn’t going to wait that long to get “Little Talks” on my iPod. It’s the best new song I’ve heard in at least a full year.