Review: Of Monsters And Men Expertly Marry Contrasting Sounds In ‘Fever Dream’
It’s been four years since Of Monsters And Men released their last album. Following Beneath The Skin in 2015, the Icelandic band made their comeback with “Alligator” this May. Already, the single promised a new, more energetic sound for the group. On Fever Dream, Of Monsters And Men expertly blend their familiar folk rock style with two contrasting elements: a more modern, electropop twist and a throwback to the 1990s and 1980s.
Of Monsters And Men’s use of space and silence lends their music an old-school vibe that’s actually refreshing in 2019. The music has room to breathe, making every thrum of the instrument that much more impactful. This may be best heard on opener “Alligator,” which could have come straight from the ’90s. Conversely, Fever Dream‘s closer, “Soothsayer,” takes us back a decade farther as the band puts their spin on what otherwise sounds reminiscent of 1980s pop.
Between these two extremes, though, Of Monsters And Men also forge ahead, experimenting with synths and electronics in new ways. That may seem at odds with their more organic sound – with real drums and guitars forming the foundation for most of their songs – but it actually works perfectly. The band has found a unique blend of old and new, electronic and organic, giving their music an intriguing update that also sets them apart from others.
As with their first two albums, Fever Dream highlights two key vocalists. On some songs, frontwoman Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir sings lead; on others, Raggi Þórhallsson is the main vocalist. And on still others, the two trade parts and harmonize their voices together, giving the songs a richer, fuller sound and keeping the songs fresh from one to the next. Each of them bring something different to the song, but the complement each other perfectly, even more so now than on their first record.
Fever Dream is an energetic, diverse album that is at once intimate and reflective, and yet infectious and rollicking. It shows growth in Of Monsters And Men, and may be their best album yet.
Track by Track
“Alligator” – Fever Dream gets an energetic start with opener – and lead single – “Alligator.” It starts with a gradual, epic buildup, guitars chiming as drums pound in. A cry of “ha!” really kicks things off, strong and fierce with a bit of distortion to darken the sound. The music, vocal delivery, and even use of space feel very 1990s, harkening back to the alternative rock sound that dominated that decade’s radio airwaves. Meanwhile, Nanna sings about feeling restless and losing control in a fever dream. It’s a song that inspires passionate singing along – certainly a great way to open the record!
“Ahay” – Compared to the first song, “Ahay” immediately presents a more electro pop sound. Raggi takes lead vocals here, with Nanna’s harmonies blending in gently. The verses are calm and simple with strong percussion to push it forward, but the choruses add more color and movement. “Ahay” is a relaxed song all the way through its sugary end.
“Róróró” – Track #3 fades in softly, but it quickly grows into a standout. Against drumstick percussion and chiming piano, Nanna croons about her desire to return home on the intimate verses. “Róróró” crescendoes up through its chorus, Nanna singing high with unrestrained emotion over rolling drums and an echoing background. Like “Alligator,” there’s something comfortingly 1990s about this. Likewise, the song sounds more like earlier Of Monsters And Men in its dynamics, and yet it still feels fresh and mesmerizing.
“Waiting For The Snow” – Nanna’s crooned vocals start the song, with tender piano lightly supporting them. Right away, “Waiting For The Snow” highlights the way silence and subtle creaking can amplify a song. It stays soft on the chorus, but grows fuller with Raggi’s harmonies. It’s a beautiful composition with vivid imagery of a wintery setting, though it’s slow enough that “Waiting For The Snow” may require extra listens to fully appreciate it.
“Vulture, Vulture” – Fever Dream picks up again with “Vulture, Vulture,” at once a more electronic and modern-sounding track. Raggi takes on the lead here, filled out with Nanna’s harmonies. The energy bubbles just under the surface until the song’s explosive chorus. By this point, Nanna and Raggi are singing more of a duet until they trade places on the second verse: This time, Nanna sings lead. “Vulture, Vulture” may be the best example of how incredible their voices sound together and the unique dynamic of the band. “Am I heartless?” they ask before the chorus, hitting the listener right in the feels. After a quirky bridge, the short song comes to its too-soon end.
“Wild Roses” – Following “Vulture, Vulture,” we get a seamless transition into another more electronic song. Over piano chords and a pulsing beat, “Wild Roses” opens with frontwoman Nanna Hilmarsdóttir crooning about authoring her own pain. She paints a vivid picture of spring in bloom, but for all the pretty imagery, Nanna’s lyrics describing feeling “out of my mind” and directionless. While the verses are pensive and calm, they hint at more lurking under the surface. The sugary vocals in the background give it extra pop. Then the choruses explode into unrestrained emotion, rolling drums propelling it forward. “Wild Roses” pushes into more modern territory, and with it’s beautiful, lush sound, it’s instantly appealing.
“Stuck In Gravity” – Atmospheric space and tiny blips set the stage for track #7. Raggi croons a folky tune, admitting, “It’s hard to think about your own mortality” now that he’s into his 30s. The chorus takes “Stuck In Gravity” to new heights, drifting into a heavenly, otherworldly soundscape painted by harp. Although it starts off unassuming, “Stuck In Gravity” grows better as it goes on, reaching a new peak with the synthy bridge and final chorus.
“Sleepwalker” – Raggi kicks off “Sleepwalker” against a backdrop of piano and pinging drops. Nanna sneaks in on the hazy pre-chorus, joining Raggi in a duet before taking over lead vocals on the chorus. In contrast to the gentler verses, the choruses are at once an ethereal, pop dreamscape. “I still dream in indigo when you’re around,” Nanna sings on the chorus. “Sleepwalker” is a dynamic song that comes to an abrupt end, a sudden awakening that moves listeners to the war that Raggi admits to having started.
“Wars” – In a perfect lyrical and musical transition, a quick fade-in to “Wars” finds Raggi crooning over finger snaps. Festive details reminiscent of “Little Talks” make this song feel quintessentially Of Monsters And Men, a welcome throwback to their earlier sound. While the verses sound like typical fare for him, Raggi’s voice grows more loose and fun on the energetic, poppy choruses. By then, it sounds more like Foster The People with its smooth, grooving vibe. “Wars” sounds free and joyful in spite of its lyric about love being a “cruel war.” It may be the song that best meshes Of Monsters And Men’s earlier sound with the more modern, confident sound heard on much of Fever Dream.
“Under A Dome” – Perhaps the most haunting song on Fever Dream is “Under A Dome.” It opens with spooky pulses and what sounds like locking doors. Raggi’s soft vocals somehow add to the eerie vibe, a ghostly presence in a song that truly captures the titular feeling of being caged in. Nanna takes over the vocals after the instrumental first chorus. “Under A Dome” is a moody, drawn-out song that grows more atmospheric and distorted up until its end.
“Soothsayer” – Fever Dream ends with a bang. “Soothsayer” kicks off with big drums over a 1980s beat. Nanna gives a lovely vocal performance here, complemented by anthemic drums and pulsing beat. The effect is very much ’80s hit single, and yet this new direction sounds stunning on Of Monsters And Men. “Soothsayer” is a standout song and an excellent, if unexpected, way to close the album.
Fever Dream Score: 4/5
Highlights on Fever Dream include: “Alligator,” “Róróró,” “Wild Roses,” “Stuck In Gravity,” “Wars,” and “Soothsayer.”
You can stream or buy Fever Dream at all the major music providers here.