Artist: Of Monsters and Men 
 

Album: My Head is an Animal 
 

Label: Universal Republic 

 

Move over Bjork. That batty songstress might have just gotten some competition as Iceland's hottest musical export. Sure, Of Monsters and Men doesn't wear swan dresses to awards shows, but the six-part band's debut, My Head is an Animal, is sure to impress. It's a delightfully endearing, wide-eyed folk romp that immediately becomes one of the year's most enchanting debuts. 

 

After winning a prestigious Icelandic music competition, Of Monsters and Men debuted stateside last month at the SXSW festival, its sights set on American domination. My Head is an Animal contains whiffs of a host of influences: Arcade Fire, Snow Patrol, The Chieftains, The Cranberries, and even Johnny and June Carter Cash. Lovers of indie-rock with lyrics drenched in symbolism will be drooling over Monster. It successfully toes the line between lush anthems and intimate ballads, proving capable of delivering both exuberance and solemnity with equal verve.

 

Standouts on Monster include "Dirty Paws" - an improbably likable album opener, despite the fact that we don't have a clue what it's about, what with its cryptic, fable-y lyrics about beasts and dragonflies. But the lush, chiming backdrop and driving beat are addictive. So is much of Monsters, including the stirring "Finner" and "Six Weeks," which could be an outtake from the Arcade Fire Funeral sessions, and is every bit as heart-stoppingly dramatic. When they move into more upbeat material, the band really hits its stride. "Mountain Sound," and "King and Lionheart" are both pulsing anthems with the band's bread and butter synth underbelly and straight ahead rhythm section.

 

All of this is carried by the listen-twice lead vocals of Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar Porhallsson. They're equally effective when soloing, or trading leads on the same song, as they do on lead single "Little Talks," which is where that Johnny-and-June vibe kicks in. Rounding out the band's sound are delicate acoustic ballads "Love Love Love" and "Sloom." A debut like this one is an exciting reminder that the next great thing could always be just around the corner. And even if it arrives from as far away a place as Iceland, who's complaining?

 

*This Review First Published 4/20/2012