The sophomore slump; in music, the instance of an artist’s second album always faring worse than the first.
Of Monsters and Men
Beneath the Skin
Republic Records; 2015
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For Of Monsters and Men, their follow up to 2011’s My Head is an Animal saw no such slump. The former album was a magnificent debut, reaching number 1 on Rock and Alternative charts in the U.S., as well as number 1 overall in Iceland and Australia.
The beginning of June 2015 was the release for the much-anticipated Beneath the Skin. Where the first album felt cheery, with fairy tale songs like Dirty Paws, Beneath the Skin is darker, moodier and sets itself on a lower tempo.
Of Monsters and Men are no strangers to dark themes. The first single from My Head is an Animal was deceptively bright. The brilliant horn intro led into a haunting song about a conversation with a deceased spouse. While certainly catchy, it’s only on closer inspection that the lyrics start to paint a picture of grief and longing.
Crystals is the first single on Beneath the Skin and starts out much like the same Of Monsters and Men that 2011 gave us. While guitar distortion replaces the airy acoustic sound of My Head is an Animal much like the rest of the album, it is a single that could easily fit on on their debut, and noticeably the most up-tempo track on the entire album, leaving it to stand out oddly against the grain.
Moving from the first track, there is an immediate change in tempo. Beneath the Skin is dark and moody, riddled with constant themes of death, drowning, wavering humanity and the sea. These were themes that persisted in My Head Is an Animal, but were much more of a backdrop, hidden behind a Pop sound. Comparatively, Beneath is obsessed: almost every track features any, or all, of those themes in spectacular fashion.
It’s a dramatic change from the Pop-Folk sound that Of Monsters and Men had fostered for themselves. Human features a brilliant juxtaposition, alternating from a chorus’ of ‘Cage me like an animal’ to ‘Breathe in, breathe out; Let the human in’.
By far the best track on the album, Thousand Eyes sings ‘I lie awake and watch it all diffuse’ while a slow bass line creeps up from a faded background, growing heavier and heavier as the song progresses, backed up a foreboding and heavily distorted guitar and a sudden and forceful string section that gets louder and increasingly tense, suffocating the listener with a beautifully orchestrated storm of noise, only to instantaneously fade off. The bass is the only thing that remains prevalent as singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir sings ‘I am the storm, I am the storm’, leaving the song to shift to the next track on the album, aptly named ‘I of the Storm’.
Beneath the Skin either represents a shift of direction for Of Monsters and Men, or a detour through a darker road. Regardless, it’s powerful and melancholic. Tense, distorted instrumentation layered around moody lyrics complement each other well. However, the single Crystals feels more like a monument to the Pop-Folk sound that worked well for My Head is an Animal, and fits less with Beneath the Skin as a whole. While a fantastic song, it holds back the consistent themes of the album, and consequently stands out from the rest of the list.
Overall, the album is incredible. If My Head is an Animal was ground-breaking, Beneath the Skin sets a new bar for the Icelandic band that ignores the conceptions that a second release has to be of lesser quality.
Overall - 7/10
User Review( votes)
Rated 7/10—Highly Recommended. Beneath the Skin has impressive lyric quality that is matched only by the tense instrumentation. A darker, moodier turn for the band that represents what could be a shift away from the Pop-Folk debut album My Head is an Animal, however Crystals is a step back in the original direction, and stands as more of a Pop sounding then the rest of Beneath the Skin appears to want to do. It will certainly be interesting to see what Of Monsters and Men have in store for their next album, and whether they continue their path to more darker and heavier songs and further away from Pop, or if they do something else entirely.