You never know where good tips are going to come from. For several years, I was a daily devotee of the Baseball Today podcast from ESPN, which once a week featured baseball writer Keith Law. I liked his sardonic nature, and his pithy comments, and found that his occasional pop culture references were to things that I liked. I checked his blog – he’s a big boardgame player, he’s a fan of Berke Breathed’s brilliant comic strip Bloom County (his blog is at meadowparty.com, which is a Bloom County reference), and he likes one of my favourite bands, Arcade Fire.
So when, on the baseball podcast, he made reference to a band he’d seen who reminded him of Arcade Fire, I took notice. The band was Of Monsters And Men, an Icelandic group playing a kind of indie-folk music. I checked Spotify and there was just one song by OMAM, Dirty Paws. I though it was OK, but it kind of went in at one ear and out at the other
A year or so later we were in Reykjavik on holiday. Reykjavik’s very nice, kind of old-fashioned in its lack of corporate takeover. And in Reykjavik is a wonderful record shop, 12 Tónar – it’s got a room down a spiral staircase with CD walkmen and sofas where you can sit and listen to albums before you buy them, like in the old days. And on the counter, as I went to pay for a 5 CD collection by Mugison that my son had found, was a CD with an arresting cover by Of Monsters And Men, My Head Is An Animal. “Oh, that’s that band Keith Law mentioned” I thought.
When we’re on holiday I like to buy a CD from a place we’re visiting that has some connection – Opera in Milan, Crosby, Stills and Nash in Los Angeles, Greig in Norway. So why not take a flyer on Of Monsters And Men in Reykjavik?
The album opened with that track I’d already heard, Dirty Paws, and the next couple of tracks were OK. Then we got to Sloom, which is quite an arresting tune. And then it came to Little Talks, and that was the one that got me. I played it over and over, watched the video (below) – what a great track it is, with a nice upbeat tune and chorus but a dark subject matter.
And I started telling everyone about this brilliant new band and this excellent track. And that’s when I found out how out of touch I had become with modern music – they already knew. While I’d been on holiday, and for quite a while beforehand, Little Talks had already been a big hit…..but I hadn’t noticed.
I went to see OMAM live when they visited Birmingham (with the aforementioned Mugison supporting, as it happened), and they were very, very good. Singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir is a really dynamic stage presence (and with a very distinctive delivery), Ragnar Þórhallsson is an interesting contrast to her – they blend together well – and the rest of the band are solid musicians.
And this Thursday I’m going to see them again, back in Birmingham touring their new album.
From baseball to boardgames to Icelandic indie-folk….it’s all connected, you just have to be ready to join the dots.
Here are some tracks to enjoy:
Mountain Sound: you may well have heard this backing programmes on TV
Sloom: Lovely. Just simple and lovely.
Crystals: from the new album, Beneath The Skin
Dirty Paws: which was that first track I heard, but which made no impact on me but now I love it (though I’ve no idea what it’s about – something Icelandic, I’m guessing)
And, looping all the way back to where I came in, with Keith Law and Meadowparty, here’s a classic cartoon from Bloom County featuring Opus the Penguin (newly arrived and learning to speak English):