Now three albums into their career, Of Monsters and Men have all but abandoned their happy-go-lucky and charming takes on indie rock in favor of stadium-ready pop anthems on Fever Dream. The first lyrics on the LP are telling as lead singer Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir opens with, “I see color/Raining down/Feral feeling/Swaying sound/But I don’t know what you want.” The entire record is filled with much brighter moments than we have come to expect from the Icelandic band, and this album turns out to be their best to date.
Coming off of two successful records in My Head is an Animal and Beneath the Skin, Of Monsters and Men could have very well made a similar sounding record for their third effort. However, never ones to be complacent with what they have accomplished before, the band took it upon themselves to push themselves to their creative limits on Fever Dream. Co-produced by the group and under the trusted tutelage of Rich Costey (Frank Turner, Foster the People), Of Monsters and Men have fully embraced the pop underlining that were embedded in their earlier work and made a record worthy of the size of the venues they are playing this fall.
Lead single and album opener, “Alligator” is as good of an opener that the band has made in their early career, but it is not truly indicative of the full direction found on their new record. Still a solid choice of a first single, that features a massive chorus and some more modern electronica elements, there is plenty to be enamored with on the vibrant track. As the album unfolds into songs such as “Ahay,” the listener quickly realizes this is a band that is ready to fulfill their complete artistic vision on their third LP. Co-lead vocalist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson puts out a clever disclaimer of a statement on the second song when he sings, “You think you know me/Oh, do you really/There’s something about you.” The dual-sided meaning of rediscovering a favorite band as they evolve into a powerhouse of a pop unit versus the singer’s lyrics about navigating through a relationship comes across quite professionally.
The early crescendo of the album occurs on the fantastic dream-pop bliss of “Róróró.” It’s not only one of the better songs on the album, but arguably the band’s strongest work to date. The incredibly memorable hook in the chorus of, “Oh what a shame cause I know/With open arms then I could hold it all/Oh what a shame that I row/To the edges so that I can fall off,” allows for the band to soar to new-found heights that they had only previously achieved on ear candy singles such as “Little Talks.”
The depth and texture of their ballads such as “Waiting for the Snow” include some electronica elements, with voice synthesizers and samples alike, yet Of Monsters and Men never lose focus of what makes them unique in the crowded music scene. The tender song allows for a brief moment to reflect on the songs that came before, while still allowing the listener to take the time to enjoy a downtempo, piano-based track that has enough unique elements embedded to make it stand out from the pack.
“Vulture, Vulture” is pretty much the polar opposite of the aforementioned ballad, as it picks the pace back up into the realm of the first few songs. It’s almost as if the band was compelled to write these songs that still sound their core sound, yet have so much newer styles mixed in to make it seem like they have taken on an entirely new direction in their development. It’s pretty remarkable to see Of Monsters and Men develop into a band like this, and it’s been enjoyable for me to see them evolve from a small club band to stadium rocking powerhouses.
Their second single released from Fever Dream, “Wild Roses” is a better representation of the material covered on the new record and yet still rocks with just as much immediacy as “Alligator.” In terms of the lyrical content here, there are several references to the cover art in the pre-chorus where Hilmarsdottir sings as confidently as ever when she says, “In the night I am wild-eyed/And you got me now/Dim the lights, we are wild-eyed/And you got me now.” The “wild-eyed” references are likely an homage to the cover art, which depicts an eye discovering things all over again in a bright and color-filled universe.
The middle section of the record includes more vocally-driven ballads from the perspective of Þórhallsson, such as “Stuck in Gravity,” where “Sleepwalker” is a more balanced duet between the two dynamic and brilliant singers. “Sleepwalker” in fact, allows the band to solidify their new status as a synth-pop band that still has all of the structure of the deep-welled songs we have come to expect from the Icelandic unit.
Just when you thought the band were done with the upbeat approach on the record, “Wars” allows for the band to get the LP back on track with a grandiose dancehall song. It reminded me a bit of the recent work of Foster the People, so choosing producer Rich Costey made a lot of sense for this particular record where the band were looking to modernize and expand their sound.
The closing duo of “Under a Dome” and “Soothsayer” successfully round out a well thought out album that has very little flaws to be found. “Under a Dome” is more of a brooding type of track that is more reminiscent of their reflective approach to songwriting as found on Beneath the Skin, whereas the closer could very well be the most radio-ready song on the entire LP. With it’s pulsating Drive Soundtrack-esque synths, cranked-up guitars, and well-placed percussion, everything clicks right into place on this song. With a closer this strong, it’s nearly impossible not to be motivated to restart Fever Dream right after the final notes bring the album to a close.
Overall, Of Monsters and Men seemed poised and ready to make their stadium-ready opus at this point in their career, all while not sacrificing what made them such a buzzworthy band in the first place. While untrained ears may feel that the group has changed too much from this record from the sophomore effort, the wiser audience knows that is just the next evolutionary step in the right direction for Of Monsters and Men to realize that this is the music they should have been making in the first place.