Of Monsters and Men, formed only within the last few years as an expansion of lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir's solo project, is a six-piece ensemble most closely associated with the indie folk genre. Their debut album, My Head is an Animal, was released in America by Universal earlier this month and has drawn much-warranted comparison to Canadian indie mega-group Arcade Fire.

Last year, after winning Iceland's annual battle of the bands, the group's first single “Little Talks” topped the Icelandic charts and is now quickly gaining support in the States. This is no surprise, as they also began their first American tour this month at the massively popular Austin arts festival SXSW.

Of Monsters and Men are outfitted with two lead singers—Hilmarsdóttir shares vocal duties with Ragnar þórhallsson. Both play acoustic guitar and, unlike Sigur Rós, sing in mildly accented English. The electric guitarist in the group favors reverb-heavy effects, often establishing a sound similar to those usually heard in indie and post-rock. The bass, keyboard and drums fill out the band by playing tight throughout the entire album. Various songs contain numerous moments of extra instrumentation, including but not limited to trumpet, accordion, flute, harmonica and even at one point what sounds to be a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar.

Obviously, these six musicians are working to compress a great deal of music into a little bit of space.

Despite the band's obvious musical aptitude, My Head is an Animal feels very much like a first album. A band more experienced with recording might establish more cohesion between songs. Other than a few reoccurring musical themes, like the use of reverb to fill empty space, no song takes any big risks. At times, certain songs successfully channel traditional English music (check out the booming vocal intro to “Your Bones”) while the beat and rhythm of other songs, like “Slow and Steady” drift into subtle Eastern European dance vibes. Each song on this album seems to stand alone rather than as a collection of tracks that work together to create a complete album.

My Head is an Animal is a good album that perfectly plays the line between pop and indie, and Of Monsters and Men deserve all the comparisons to a band as great as Arcade Fire. However, it is important to note that Of Monsters and Men are certainly paving their own way—their songwriting is both dense and playful, their instrumental setup is already refined and their musical influences are wide and varied. The production is the one aspect of the album that makes it merely good instead of great. On record, as opposed to live performances, Of Monsters and Men seem restrained, and My Head is an Animal lacks the unbridled and raw emotion that constitutes the best moments of other brilliant indie acts.

The talent in this band is exceptionally obvious, and once they become comfortable with what they are willing to do and how far they are willing to let themselves go, great things are going to happen.

Release Date: April 3, 2012

Label: Republic Records

Stars: 4 out of 5

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