America has been kind to Of Monsters and Men. The Nordic neo-folk rockers became breakout stars with their wistful horn-and-hey-laden single "Little Talks" in 2011. Like if Mumford and Sons did a study abroad in Scandinavia, the nine-piece was at the forefront of a movement that, as of late, seems to be on it's last leg.
But despite this author's (perhaps) cynical cultural musings, fans, which included a surprising number of preteens, packed Roy Wilkins Thursday night for 90-minutes of aural boom and bust. Opening with the ominous "Thousand Eyes" and their latest single "Empire," the reliably earnest viking children enthralled their equally earnest fanbase, delivering, by and large, sprawling, by-the-books renditions that were effective but never colored outside the lines.
In a musical landscape saturated with boilerplate folk-pop, Of Monsters and Men distinguish themselves with their colossal walls of sound and endearing lyricism. The band excels in creating atmosphere that, at times, translates beautifully live.
While the set was mostly comprised of newer material, fans were treated with highlights from the group's debut early on that include the monstrously catchy (pun intended) "Mountain Sound" and the helplessly saccharine "King and Lionheart," which is the closest the group gets to mimicking their London-based affiliates Mumford and Sons.
Newer offerings like "Wolves Without Teeth" and "Black Water" illustrated their intrinsic knack for tender pop hooks; the snare-and-piano dynamic of "I of the Storm" proved to be a riveting centerpiece for a set that actually did more to dull than enamor.
Despite their finesse and supposed sincerity, the second act dragged and failed to elicit much of a response from audience members. Overproduced high drama on songs like "Hunger" and "Backyard" ended up being tiresome and tedious. The convivial nature of "Little Talks" and "Dirty Paws" injected some life into the show, but were ultimately overshadowed by less-spirited cuts like the painfully serious, puzzlingly titled "Organs." Even the sweeping "We Sink" proved to be a particularly sleepy closer.
It's no doubt that Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar "Raggi" Þórhallsson are immensely talented vocalists; they most certainly belong in arenas but, their songwriting is severely lacking in substance. Because when you peel back the layers and layers (and layers) of production and sheen, what you're left with is something so minimalistic, so base-level obscene, that it almost insults the intelligence of its listeners. It doesn't inspire — it bludgeons you into boredom.
For a band that packs so much emotion onto their record, Thursday's show at the Roy Wilkins seem to be lacking just that.
Critic's bias: I was pretty indifferent about Of Monsters and Men going in. After tonight's show, I couldn't feel less indifferent.
Random notebook dump: The audience looked like they had all met at Target
The crowd: Everyone was either 12 or 30. A few stray older cats and bro-types who had been assumedly dragged girlfriend's or their eager bro-type counterparts.
Overheard in the crowd: "I just want to hear 'Little Talks'" or some variation of the sentiment was uttered multiple times. We got there eventually.
King and Lionheart
I of the Storm
Wolves Without Teeth
Encore: Organs/Dirty Paws/We Sink