Album Review: Among Criminals “Break” to New (and Old) Mutiny

Following the career of an independent band as closely as I’ve followed Among Criminals can give the listener an interesting look into how years of working towards any measure of success can change a musical group.  For better or worse, lineups change and sounds evolve.  Much has changed since I last wrote about Among Criminals, but on their new album, The Break, there are some welcome calls to the group’s past mixed in with intriguing new directions taken.


Though the group has changed two-thirds of its makeup, Among Criminals’ identity is still very much tied up in the one remaining founding member’s sound preferences and songwriting.  On The Break singer-guitarist Ryan Gaughan seems to have really cut loose; though the type of blistering guitar solo we’ve come to expect from Gaughan doesn’t really arrive until late in the tracklisting, the guitar work throughout the album effortlessly slips from delay-draped staccato skanks to heavy distorted power chords.  The singer’s voice as well is extended beyond its normal dynamic range: on The Break Gaughan both croons softly and shreds his vocal chords screaming, sometimes both within the same song.  New bassist Bhauraw Avhad brings a more metallic sound to the band’s low end, and Kyle Ruggieri’s drumming is as straight-ahead rock as has ever been heard on an Among Criminals record.  The Break is really a paradox in itself in that regard, as though the group set out to make a true rock album and ended up with some of the most heavily blended work they’ve yet to churn out.

As always, subject matter is of great importance.  It’s easy to read from the album’s cover art (pictured above) and the descriptive imagery used in the songs that these are protest songs.  A number of tracks (“Cold Soldier” and “Kingsmen”, for example) continue the Among Criminals tradition of pointedly political songs, but much of the material on The Break is more allegorical.  It seems that Gaughan and co. have much to be upset about.  Mysterious lyrics point towards tragic young women and an ambiguously innocent narrator.  Throughout all of this musical tones and tempi shift dramatically.  There is no song on the album that is downtempo, or a ballad, strictly speaking.  Instead, there are two or three tracks that begin or end softer and slower in contrast to the aural assault of hard rocking that belies the remainder of the running.  Reggae rhythms (“Save Me”, among others) and danceable funky grooves (“Firefly”) are present amidst a very polished mix of general rock hallmarks.  Guitars are distorted, voices are strained, and drums and cymbals crash loudly in an inexorable rush through the stories told here.

As mentioned above, the path that an independent act may take through its career can lead to some unexpected choices or unorthodox moves.  Mixed in with new material on this album are newly recorded versions of two old favorites among the Among Criminals crowd: “Cold Soldier” from the debut full-length Kill the Myth and “Don’t Tell Us” from the group’s self-titled effort.  That these tracks fit in as seamlessly as they do is truly a testament to the cohesive nature of the group’s artistic choices and songwriting prowess.  Around these two callbacks to earlier work are such standouts as the leadoff track, “Glow in the Dark”, the sweetness of “It All Breaks”, and the swaying funk-rock “Firefly”.  “Kingsmen”, “Save Me”, and “Constant” take the tempo and emotion up a degree before dropping into almost dub-heavy reggae grooves.  The album’s closer “Secret (Father Murphy)” has a truly big, bad swagger to it.  These songs mean business, and are arresting to the listener.

As Among Criminals continues to evolve as a band in search of wider success and the ability to continue making music, The Break is assuredly a step in a new direction.  New band members and old songs come together on this album to give Among Criminals a no-frills record that is in-your-face and unapologetic.  Clean production and tight engineering hopefully give this album the greatest gift that recorded music can: songs delivered to the listener exactly as the artist imagined them.

The Break is available through CDBaby and iTunes, and Among Criminals can be followed through their website and on facebook.


Album Review Bonanza Part 2: Rabbit Inn Rebellion

Before I get called out for stretching things beyond my original 24-hour promise, let me say that a) I got tired, b) all three of these posts have ended up being longer than I originally intended, and c) I decided it was important to go vote (PS GO VOTE! GET INFORMED AND CAST YOUR VOTE!) before I wrote up a review to an album by State Radio.  Excuses aside, here is the last of three new installments of this blog in three days: a write-up on the brand new release by Boston political rockers State Radio.

I should point out that State Radio is and has been my favorite band for several years now.  In the early 2000s, Chad Urmston began writing heavily political and well-educated rock and reggae songs as his jammy grassroots-celebrity band Dispatch was headed for a breakup.  For the past decade hence Urmston has fronted a Boston-based trio that defines itself on activism in practice and in their words.  Earlier this week, State Radio released their fourth full-length album, Rabbit Inn Rebellion, a heavy disc that rumbles in a slightly new direction for the group.

Listeners of State Radio will recognize a heavy slate of hot-button issues in the lyrics on the album, but gone are even a hint of the reggae upstrokes that have been present in the band’s music even as their arrangements have moved in darker and more metallic directions.  The great irony is that while the skanking is gone from these songs, the intense riffs and unexpected turnarounds that are found on Rabbit Inn Rebellion actually call the listener back to State Radio’s first studio offering, a 2002 EP titled Flag of the Shiners.  I miss the Marley-esque blend of reggae and social consciousness that the band has admittedly been moving ever so cautiously away from since their debut full-length, 2006’s Us Against the Crown, but the bombastic riffs and crashing wall of cymbal and bass guitar that sits at the forefront of the new album is just as familiar and welcome.

One of State Radio’s greatest strengths is Urmston’s incredible gift for storytelling; from his Dispatch heyday in the 1990s to the present, the songwriter has waxed lyrical about the fantastical and the painfully real, often finding a mystical realism in his words.  The people Urmston has met and the sights he’s seen clearly give him an arsenal of stories to tell, and each of them seems breathtakingly important.  A singer and lyricist with this clear of a command of oral history and English vocabulary can make some magical things happen on a record, and Urmston regularly achieves this.  Combining Urmston’s vocals with his clever guitar riffs, the face-melting lead bass guitar of Chuck Fay (this term has never been so appropriate in band not led by Les Claypool or Victor Wooten), and Mike “Maddog” Najarian’s 1990s hard rock-style drumming creates a rock album that captivates the listener from start to finish.

When it was released I was quick to refer to Let it Go, the most recent State Radio album, as a stream of anthems, their melodies soaring over the wall of sound the band created to great emotional appeal and effect.  Rabbit Inn Rebellion is similarly anthemic in the melodic structure and the earnest cries (and they are often cries) of the characters in Urmston’s stories.  From hard rockers about a mother in Haiti looking for her children in the aftermath of an earthquake and a populace that has forgotten about two wars they’re fighting (“Roadway Broken” and “Take Cover“, respectively) to the Boston-punk story of a guardian angel girl in “Freckled Mary“, Rabbit Inn Rebellion sees Urmston screaming over blues-clogged guitars and a rhythm section at the top of their game to package crucial issues and stories in fitting songs that often give a face and a narrative voice to their tales.

And there are tales to tell here.  The album kicks off with clips from an interview with a former junkie as an overdriven blues groove tells about the dangers of hard drugs in “H.A.C.K.I.N.“.  State Radio takes on Wall Street in “Big Man” and the tragedy of lost life in wartime in the Itunes-only bonus track “Ocean“.  A new recording of “Adelaide” (a more rootsy version appears on Urmston’s 2011 solo album) recounts the rise and fall of a love between Urmston’s brother and a girl from a Navajo reservation, and the Police-with-a-punk-twist roar of “Desert Queen” provides the listener with a true story of a dog killer in Arizona.    The distortion kicks off quickly on the first track and doesn’t really let up all the way through the closer, the Black Sabbath-like “Black Welsh Mountain“.  Rabbit Inn Rebellion is clearly meant to be listened to at loud volumes, and playing through it the listener is compelled at turns to scream along with the repeated chants and shift with the swaying riffs that power each track.

I’ve heard the comment that the album barely feels new, as almost half of the tracks had been released in some form or another prior to release, but I feel that they’re mostly all defensible.  “Adelaide” is sufficiently different from the Simmerkane II version released last year that I am happy to listen to it. “Roadway Broken” was released early as a part of a benefit for relief in Haiti.  “Freckled Mary” and “Take Cover” were essentially singles leaked to garner excitement, and “State of Georgia” is just now making its first appearance as a full-band studio cut.  The latter is maybe emotional peak of the album: a creeping voodoo blues flips the switch to death-cry rock to commit to memory the tragic life and death of Troy Davis.

Rabbit Inn Rebellion is as much a call to action as a listening experience, and the band is happy to back their lyrics up with community service and advocacy.  Urmston himself actually founded a nonprofit organization that works to unite musicians and fans in service to communities and causes.  Today actually eclipses Calling All Crows’ annual 5k in Northampton, Massachusetts, with this year’s proceeds raising awareness for marriage equality.  Just as the band has written songs about earthquakes and death-row inmates and human rights violations, their work has gone towards promoting and funding these efforts.  In this way, the group is always able to underscore the importance of their work; not only does State Radio support the causes they advocate in their music, they are happy to join hands with their fans and put work in on the ground in these situations.

State Radio’s newest offering is a headbanging freight train that barrels through chapter after chapter of a litany of causes and issues that weigh heavily on the band’s collective mind.  With snarling guitars and bass guitar riffs that vibrate the listener’s insides, this is a meaner and dirtier sound than the band has often put to record, but one that relates their message just as effectively.  Rabbit Inn Rebellion may prove to take a physical and emotional toll on the listener, but that falls right in line with the sober nature of so many of these stories being told.  In some ways this is a different type of album than the typical State Radio listener is used to, but the incredible (and with one or two exceptions, true) stories being told and undeniable quality of songwriting maintain this as a release to grab and a band to continue watching.

Nobody Listens to…Bankrupt and the Borrowers

EDITOR’S NOTE: A few super-helpful individuals with ties to the band have contacted me to clear up a few details about the group. Those changes are now reflected below. Thanks everyone! Keep reading (and expect a few new “Nobody Listens to”s to appear in the next few weeks).

Yes! At long last I’m writing a new post.  I’ve been away for a minute, but I’ve been thinking about you.  And it’s with great tenderness I craft this newest essay.  This will (hopefully) be the first of three new posts to go up within 24 hours, and will (again, hopefully) kick off a return to regularly scheduled programming here on this blog.  Tonight I’ll be putting up a remembrance of a great Austin band that no longer exists, and in trying to document the inherent tragedy and strife that followed Bankrupt and the Borrowers, I’ll be laying out some emotion here for the world. With their name as a signifier, Bankrupt and the Borrowers may have held the best indexical relationship in modern music.

It’s completely a fluke I ever heard about Bankrupt and the Borrowers in the first place.  The band never had a record deal, rarely toured outside of the greater Austin area, and as far as I’m aware none of my friends were also listening to the band back in 2009 when I was on a family vacation down in the Texas state capital trying desperately to convince my parents to take us to one of downtown Austin’s plentiful rock clubs.  We were in the live music capital of the world, and I wanted to go see a show.

It didn’t happen, but scanning the paper for acts with potential had taken me across a video of a Bankrupt and the Borrowers song.  From its opening chords I was taken to a fantastically angsty, raw-ly emotional depth of blues- the music and lyrics both evoked a point where things were so grim that you just had to crack a weak half-smile and keep drifting towards the next day’s depression.  It wasn’t uplifting stuff, but the feelings in it were great catharsis.  This is something I’ve remembered in tough times and called back upon when the darkness needed a way out.

Bankrupt and the Borrowers didn’t fabricate those echoes of bottoming out.  In the mid-oughts three young men with international roots met by happenstance in New England and decided to become a band and be very poor together.  Jesse “Cadger” Moore, Blue “Deadweight” Mongeon, and Jon “Baggage” Pettis eventually found themselves in Austin, apparently by virtue of its plentiful work for musicians and cheap housing.  The trio found a punk drummer in James “Osteo” Taylor and settled in to a neighborhood of artists in East Austin, blending dirty, grungy rock with the type of blues that seems to take strength from hopelessness.  They were also broke.  I bring this last bit up to really hammer home the point and spotlight its importance to the group; from the get-go, Bankrupt and Borrowers listed the lack of funds as a musical and lyrical influence, and the band members’ poverty is evident in their work from the low-quality home recordings they pieced together to the reckless desperation of their live shows.  Bankrupt and the Borrowers lived up to their name by staying true to their passions and feeding those passions off of the detrimental lifestyle other aspects of their lives had led to.

To my knowledge, Bankrupt and the Borrowers only released one set of recordings, a home-recorded EP entitled Beers on the Bible.  The band has a distinct and original sound, flipping the switch from simmering rock and jangly blues to the wailing guitars and strained voices of a grungy and particularly angry breed of rock music.  While the group lists their socio-economic circumstances and geographic locations as food for musical thought, the individual members’ backgrounds and tastes are easily in view.  Guitarist and sometime Vocalist “Cadger” studied blues guitar, while bassist and vocalist “Deadweight” brings an indie rock sensibility to the group.  Rounded out by multi-instrumentalist “Baggage”‘s interest in horn arrangements and “Osteo”‘s history as an Austinite punk drummer, Bankrupt and the Borrowers touches on several genres, each of which fits nicely in step with the topical themes of their music.

Beers on the Bible covers an emotional range that typically oscillates between depression and rage.  The vocals and guitar arrangements in particular reflect a certain disconsolate thrashing that instantly calls to mind someone who might not be in a great state of mind.  Even songs about lovers (“I Love you Baby“, “Katie Anne“) and their homebase on Austin’s East side (“Home“, “Dumpster“) can make lyrics that would otherwise come across as neutral at worst sound filled with intense (and yes, typically negative) emotions.  This does make the music decidedly dark, and Bankrupt and the Borrowers rarely seem to have happy news to share, but it adds an emotional complexity that sounds earnest enough to give the listener the idea that harsh truths are being shared.  Tracks from the EP such as “TCB” and “The Cat” benefit from this earnest emotional openness, as unclear lyrics still betray a kind of romantic desolation, squealing guitars and frantic drums mimicking the chaos of the bandmates’ lives.

And all of this brings me to the band’s most frequently-mentioned tune, an epic blues number ambitiously titled “Holden Caulfield at 35“.  In a rare behind-the-scenes interview, the band allows that the song takes inspiration from an imagined drugs-and-women-fueled weekend on the Mexican border for the now-approaching middle-aged narrator of “The Catcher in the Rye”, but more so betrays that even when they attempted to write a happy song the resulting subject matter betrays the reason why so many of their songs seem to tell miserable stories.  Musically the song throws the kitchen sink at Caulfield’s passed out friend Rosie, slowly climbing from a solo guitar riff to add whistling, harmonica, three vocalists delivering verses, and the eventual heavily-stomping coda that features an elegiac trumpet solo over the refrain “I’m still smilin’ all the same”.  It’s a powerful track, and followers of the band responded in kind: in the aforementioned interview, the band noted that at the time the track wasn’t recorded and fans at shows were singing along to every word.  Glimpsing a moment of validation, the musicians that comprised Bankrupt and the Borrowers could take some solace in the fact that they were writing music that fans connected with and could empathize with- real music.

The sad tale of the Bankrupt and the Borrowers, however, only continues in tragedy. Seemingly just as the group was staking a claim on the music scene in a town that can easily swallow an artist and replace him with five more, tragedy struck the group in a very real way.  In the early morning on October 9, 2009, a power strip in the home the band shared on the Northeast side of town malfunctioned and started a fire.  Within minutes the house was ablaze, and the one functional fire alarm was insufficient warning.  Jon Pettis, a multi-instrumentalist who took duties as a vocalist, guitarist, and player of several brass instruments for Bankrupt and the Borrowers died as the house burned down around him.  Pettis’ life, as those of his friends and bandmates, had been trending upward; the group was consistently booking shows, touring, and making new connections.  Just before the deadly house fire that took one of the bandmembers’ life, Bankrupt and the Borrowers had been announced as a marquee artist for Austin’s annual Fun Fun Fun Fest.

That show would prove to be the final concert for Bankrupt and the Borrowers as such, and would be dedicated as a benefit for the survivors of Jon “Baggage” Pettis in the wake of his sudden and unexpected passing.

  The surviving members of Bankrupt and the Borrowers have continued performing in and around the Austin area with a collective of down-on-their-luck musicians who go by the name of East Cameron Folkcore.  This new project has even had its story told by a local documentary filmmaker who wanted to recount the origin of the group as a companion to their second full-length album, The Sun Also Rises.  Meanwhile, little remains of Bankrupt and the Borrowers other than poignant memorials to the group.  Myspace, Facebook, and blogspot pages for the group are still live, though inactive, and the group’s official website is off the web.  For me though, this is a band that I didn’t even get to see play, and I mostly listen to them through Myspace streams and youtube clips.  And somehow that is still enough to get across the intense emotions of pain and loss that followed the group from their inception and seem just as appropriate now, almost three years after their last performance.  Nobody is listening to Bankrupt and the Borrowers right now, and to be honest many people don’t need to very often.  But the unfiltered and unrefined pain that the group was able to translate from their meager means into arresting music makes the group a potent listen, and their tragic story is fascinating and gut-wrenching enough to be shared as often as their songs.

“I’m still smilin’ all the same…”

Nobody Listens to…Among Criminals

There may be a little bit of pressure writing about a band when I know that at least one of its members will read this.  Having said that, when I remember that I watched these guys play acoustically in a park in my hometown when the Dallas stop of their first national tour was cancelled, I can breathe a bit easier.  In any case, this week brings you the best act to come out of Philadelphia since Will Smith: hard-rocking and reggae-grooving Among Criminals.

Among Criminals

I was still in high school when I first heard Among Criminals.  At the time I was pretty plugged into the community of fans that followed the band State Radio (read: I geeked out reading and occasionally posting on the band’s fan forum), and heard about a really great group out of Philadelphia that not only had some great music, but made a point of being accessible to anyone who followed the group.  I followed the group’s progress, downloaded their albums, and struck up an online correspondence with the band through the myspace page that they personally managed. 

According to Ryan Gaughan, Among Criminals’ singer and guitarist who was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the group, he and the bassist known only as “Bean” were childhood friends who reunited as bandmates upon returning to Philadelphia after time in Boston and Las Vegas, respectively.  While in Boston attending Berklee College of Music Gaughan met drummer Jarrod Pedone, who happened to come into the market for a band at the fortunate moment that Gaughan and Bean were looking to round out a band.  Among Criminals was born by fire when Gaughan introduced his prospective rhythm section immediately before the group’s first show in Trenton, New Jersey.  The trio hasn’t looked back since.

Gaughan truly has found a way to live the dream.  After Among Criminals’ early rehearsals, the three decided that they didn’t have anything better going on, bought a van, and proceeded to play roughly four hundred shows in three years (“that number inflated depending on who we talk to!” reveals Gaughan).  After three self-produced albums and sharing bills with State Radio, SOJA, Dirty Heads, and Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, Among Criminals went for broke (literally) and recorded their first professionally produced work.  As I write this the band is in Los Angeles shooting their first-ever music video.

The three shaggy-headed members of Among Criminals each brings a wild energy to the group’s recordings.  Gaughan lists 90s alternative rock giants such as Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters as playing as much a role in the band’s musical heritage as punk and reggae acts The Clash and the Police.  Each song is as likely to settle into a hard-edged reggae bounce or a hot latin groove as it is rise into a distorted and blistering rock song; for that matter several of Among Criminals’ songs boast all of the above. Pedone is an impressively fluid drummer, and shifts styles somewhat effortlessly as the group’s varied music demands.  Bean seems constantly in the pocket, and ensures that the bass guitar demands as much attention as any other aspect of the power trio.  Gaughan remains in the center, his soft vocals juxtaposed with his virtuosic brand of Joe-Strummer-meets-Carlos-Santana-on-amphetamines lead guitar work

All of this accompanies the righteous anger and hope beyond hope that the highly political and social lyrics of the music contains.  The group has no qualms about wearing their beliefs and ideologies on their collective sleeve, and Gaughan’s calls for an end to violence, war, and political corruption fall in line with both a musical style that is recognizably influenced by The Clash and Rage Against the Machine and a social stance that has led to the group’s placement on bills with Tom Morello and Anti-Flag (Among Criminals signed on for two shows to benefit Iraq Veterans Against War that never happened, much to Gaughan’s chagrin).

As can be imagined, Among Criminals’ songs are typically highly dynamic.  From the quasi-latin riffing of “Cold Solider”, “Fire”, and “Last Bullet” to the distortion-heavy numbers “Bare-handed Hitman” and “Smartest Man in the World”, elements of the song are both hauntingly distant and unabashedly in-your-face.  Working through the band’s discography, however, reveals unexpected surprises: almost tribal chants float over a constant guitar skank in “War”, the world nearly comes to an end in the genre-bending odyssey of “Ghost”, an upbeat funk groove belies more angry lyrics in “Step Back”, and lighthearted acoustic tunes like “Go Say” and “I See” occasionally pop out (mentally prepare yourself for the guitar solo in the latter before listening).  The pacifist ballad “Killin’ is Killin’” even features steel pans.

To note any differences from album to album would be an exercise in futility, as each album is more the result of funds coming through to record tracks that are constantly in flux.  The freshly-minted 2012 release Among Criminals even features new recordings of several songs that appeared on the trio’s earlier releases,Kill the Myth and Happy History.

It’s been four years now since the night I gathered a few friends and met Among Criminals as their van rolled into a neighborhood park in the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth.  Whether it was the impressive skills each member of the band has honed on their instrument of choice or the diverse influences that form Among Criminals’ music, I always felt that the songs translate just as well to an acoustic setting as to the high-decibel rock that characterizes the majority of the trio’s shows.  In any case, Among Criminals is a band that tours tirelessly, and spares no expense in their continuing quest to make a name for themselves.  As mentioned above, the group is currently shooting their first music video for a single from what they hope to be their breakout album (an album which, by the way, can be purchased for just seven dollars on the group’s official website).  The self-titled Among Criminals is currently available to stream in its entirety on the band’s facebook page, and members of the trio still regularly communicate to fans through social media.  If nothing else, this is one of the most endearing aspects of Among Criminals’ life as a band: in addition to writing and performing good music, the group makes an effort to be responsive to those who follow their music.  Nobody is listening to Among Criminals much right now, but hopefully the hard work that the band has put into both connecting with fans and producing a powerful sound will soon pay off with appropriate success.

Nobody Listens to…Of Monsters and Men

So I’m being a bit trendy here, but I want to go ahead and write this entry before the title is dated in about a week.  For right now, Of Monsters and Men still qualifies as a band most people I know haven’t heard of, so they’re the subject of this week’s column.

Of Monsters and Men

A Few weeks ago, I began hearing a song I didn’t recognize quite frequently on KXT, a public radio station here in Dallas-Fort Worth that plays a wide variety of music.  I wondered if I was listening to a new song by Mumford & Sons that featured a female voice, or some other such exponent of the U.K.’s recent folk revival.  After extensive research (read: going to KXT’s website and looking up playlists) I discovered that I had been listening to “Little Talks” by a hot new Icelandic band by the name of Of Monsters and Men.  I decided that they were worth some investigation.

Of Monsters and Men formed through the collaboration of singers Nana Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson in 2010.  Within a year of its inception, Of Monsters and Men had both secured a slot in and won Iceland’s national battle of the bands, Músiktilraunir.  Around this time Seattle radio station KEXP caught wind of the group and released a video of the group performing the song “Little Talks” acoustically.  Of Monsters and Men had a foothold in the U.S.

Musically, Of Monsters and Men describe themselves as “crafters of folkie pop songs”, a designation that the group lives up to on their debut album My Head is an Animal.  I’ve not been the first two compare the group to Mumford & Sons, and the male vocals provided by Þórhallsson and the pounding kick drum that drives most of the tunes of the album easily remind the listener of the British string band that burst onto the airwaves in late 2010.  Þórhallsson’s voice itself is clear and plaintive, reminiscent of Mumford & Sons’ Marcus Mumford or Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice.  When paired with the unique-yet-familiar vocals of Hilmarsdóttir on such songs as the album’s lead-off track “Dirty Paws” and the follow-up single “King and Lionheart”, the two singers seem to manage a tangible emotional content while never straining their voices to great dynamic or melodic heights.  It should also be noted that Of Monsters and Mens’ songs are in English, and the singers’ accents could almost pass off as British (thus the easy comparisons to British folk groups).

(Personal sidebar: While living in Peru, I met a lovely young Icelandic girl who spoke English very clearly, and with a similarly quasi-British accent. She said it was due to Icelanders’ consumption of British television.  I wonder if this is relevant.)

The resulting sound is a surprisingly soft and warm lyrical aspect to a music that swells from finger-picked acoustic guitars and softly played piano to pounding drums and soaring horns.  Tracks such as “Love Love Love” really spotlight this dynamic range, as the song is light all the way through an arrangement of guitars and accordion, but feels as if it might explode at any moment.  This is par for the course on My Head is an Animal.  Something about the way these songs are written leads the listener to an anticipation that even the most quiet and calm of musical passages can burst into a thick wall of acoustic sound.  That Of Monsters and Men have a penchant for ominous sound effects and gang vocal shouts only adds to this.  Expanding around these musical punctuation marks are clouds of guitar, keys, and percussion.  The songs onMy Head is an Animal seem to exist in a wide and open space- almost as if the music reflects how one might imagine Iceland (I’ve heard it’s not all expansive tundra, but it’s hard to shake that mental image).  A healthy reverberation placed over all of the instrumental and vocal tracks makes the album interesting to listen to spatially. My Head is an Animal sounds like a folk band playing very far away that has somehow echoed very close to the listener’s ears.

Of Monsters and Men

As I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, Of Monsters and Men appears to be on the verge of major success stateside.  After KEXP in Seattle’s profiling of the group, radio stations across the country have begun giving “Little Talks” airplay, and a beautifully-shot music video has appeared on the internet.  I recently discovered that the group will be performing as a showcase artist at Austin’s South by Southwest music festival in just over a week, and multiple dates across a North American tour are beginning to sell out.  All of this is doubly amazing given that the group hasn’t even released their debut album in the United States yetMy Head is an Animal officially becomes available in the U.S. on April third, though tracks from the release can be streamed at various points throughout the internet, and a number of high-quality live videos are on youtube.  Of Monsters and Men can be found online through their website, a tumblr(!), and on twitter with the handle @monstersandmen.  No one is really listening much to Of Monsters and Men yet, but the new depth they bring, both melodically and geographically, to the recent surge of well-written and emotive folk music makes the band worthy of all of the new exposure it seems they will be privy to over the next few weeks.  I encourage all in Austin for South by Southwest to stop by Of Monsters and Men’s showcase, and all who can’t make it to the festival to keep youtube-ing until April third.