Meant to give you a deeper look at the range of talent taking the Lolla stages in August, our Artist Discovery Series features bands topping the must-see lists of the country’s best music bloggers. The artists featured cover a wide range — from big name headliners to buzzworthy newcomers making a stir in the music world. Today’s feature comes from A.V. Club’s Marcus Gilmer. For a European band to sell out a U.S. tour of small-to-mid-sized venues is a pretty solid achievement. But for a European band to do so months before the Stateside release of their debut album is an even more impressive feat. But such is the case with Iceland’s indie-folk-pop stars Of Monsters And Men. The band began life as a duo featuring songwriters Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson and, as a quartet, won Iceland’s annual music competition Músíktilraunir in 2010.
As the band kept writing, it was invited to play the annual Iceland Airwaves Music Fest later that year. During that fest, a live version of the band’s “Little Talks” was recorded by Seattle radio station KEXP and got the band on radio in the states. The song rides dueling boy-girl harmonies to great heights and an epic sweep. Horns and accordion are woven into the song’s soaring, dreamy tapestry, triumphant shouts of “Hey!” punctuating the joyous swoon.
After the success of 2010, the band set out to record their first proper album, My Head is an Animal, released overseas in September 2011. But radioplay and another appearance at Iceland Airwaves upped the band’s profile and the buzz surrounding their album. In late 2011, the band released a four-song EP in the States as a preview for what was to come. In January of this year, the band signed to Universal Music Group which secured a spring release for Animal in the States.
Before that, the band hunkered down and put two new songs to tape, including “Mountain Sound,” for the U.S. release. Like a folkier Arcade Fire, “Mountain Sound” follows a winding synth line and thundering drumbeat to a rollicking chorus. The song fit in alongside the rest of the album, a collection of shining folk-pop gems like the thundering, piano-driven opener “Dirty Paws” and the gentle, woozy ballad “Love Love Love.”
The band announced a North American tour shortly after signing with Universal and tickets went quick. The radioplay helped spread the band’s popularity in a word-of-mouth way and the terrific music didn’t hurt, either. Shows were added and some, like in Chicago, were moved to bigger venues to accommodate the band’s growing fanbase. After the successful spring tour and hitting spots back in Europe, Of Monsters and Men are back for a victory lap of America this summer. The band’s slot at Lollapalooza is its biggest festival appearance yet and, coupled with a sold-out aftershow at House of Blues, they’re no longer poised to be the “next big thing” in music: they’ve already made the leap.