Music review: Of Monsters and Men, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
“This is in your native language,” jokes Ragnar Þórhallsson, singer and guitarist for Icelandic indie-folk act Of Monsters and Men, mocking the crowd’s lacklustre response to his attempts to start a singalong for radio favourite Mountain Sound.
He need not have doubted the fans packed around the small, brightly lit stage. By the time his vocals chirped the song’s upbeat, festival-friendly refrain (“Sleep until the sun goes down”) with fellow singer/guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, the venue is jumping and singing at full volume.
The six-piece has added a seventh member on trumpet for tonight – the first of three sold out nights at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire following the success of 2011’s My Head Is An Animal, released in Europe last April after gathering acclaim in the band’s native Iceland.
The effect is more cacophonic than the recorded material suggests it would be, with the flourishing keys, wheezing accordion and modest vocals creating the backbone of the band’s signature kitsch sound.
Despite efforts to diversify their offerings, that sound remains one-dimensional for the hour-long set; Hilmarsdóttir promises a “dramatic” turn for the lovesong “Love, Love, Love”, but it is merely slower and slightly quieter than the rest.
The simplicity of “Lakehouse” is charming, and gets the crowd clapping, but it is no departure or expansion on what has gone before. The “la la las” liberally sprinkled across their repertoire do not help matters, and the band comes across as a safer version of the Mumfords. The song is decorated with excitable lighting and burst of confetti that rain down on the jumping fans below, though it is difficult to shake off the feeling that this set is perfect for a summer singsong around a campfire, and not much more.
After a slight lull, it is another radio-friendly single, Little Talks, that re-animates the young crowd. The lyrics speak of broken hearts and lives torn apart and words never said, but the crowd is more concerned with the chorus that is interspersed with several staccato shouts of “Hey!”, which they bellow between sips of bottled beer.
The encore offers a peeled back version of Sloom. With just three members of the band providing instrumentals, it is a missed opportunity for Hilmarsdóttir and Þórhallsson to expand on their vocal styles. The band is fun, and puts smiles on faces. Nothing more, nothing less.
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