'Fever Dream' Is a Mixed Bag of Synthpop Zeal and Treasured Of Monsters and Men Trademarks

Photo: Meredith Truax / Republic Records

Of Monsters and Men lose some uniqueness and quality jumping on a more commercial bandwagon, but their beloved singularity is mostly intact on Fever Dream.

Fever Dream
Of Monsters and Men


26 July 2019

With their first two LPs—2011's My Head Is an Animal and 2015's Beneath the Skin–Icelandic troupe Of Monsters and Men mixed indie folk, chamber pop, and other wonderful styles into characteristically luscious, reserved, and heartfelt gems. Full of arrangements both nuanced and bombastic, as well as deeply distinctive vocals and melodies, the records showcased an exceptional formula. For better or worse, their third outing, Fever Dream, charts a substantially different route. Although it maintains that core Of Monsters and Men essence at times, Fever Dream's startling emphasis on synthpop immediacy and glamour makes it simultaneously laudable from an artistic viewpoint and disappointing from a fan angle. In other words, they—like all artists—should be commended for challenging themselves and taking their audience to new places. Yet, if that ultimate destination is inferior to the starting point, it's not an entirely beneficial endeavor.

Whereas the past two collections were largely melancholic and embroidered odes perfect for acoustic guitar recreations, this one uses more programmed elements to yield brighter and bouncier tracks that appeal to a wider audience. In a recent interview with NME, co-lead singer and guitarist Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir said that it focuses more on a "female perspective" and serves as a "learning curve" for what the band can be. Without a doubt, admirers of the aforementioned debut will find Fever Dream startling at times. But once its new direction is fully appreciated, it's easy to comprehend how the quintet's beloved DNA is still at the heart of it all.

The album opens with the lead single and most atypical tune, "Alligator". With its average backbeats, buzzing guitar chords, shimmering undercurrents, and triumphantly glitzy vocals, it's almost unrecognizable as one of their songs. Instead, "Alligator" conjures the latter-day stylistic deviations of Muse and Pure Reason Revolution, fitting alongside countless generic empowerment anthems residing within modern pop music. It's catchy and iridescent enough to appeal in a commercial sense, but it lacks almost all of what makes Of Monsters and Men exceptional in the first place.

Elsewhere, "Ahay", "Róróró", "Wars", and "Sleepwalker" incorporate more treasured trademarks into that newfound identity, so they're at least adequate compromises. Still, there's a level of mainstream plasticity and consumer motivation to it all that's hard to ignore or forgive, with even the lyrical quality taking a hit. (Compare, for example, "Wake me up / I'm fever dreaming / And now I lose control / I'm fever dreaming / Shake it out" from "Alligator" with "Soon it will all be over / And buried with our past / We used to play outside when we were young / And full of life and full of love" from their breakthrough duet, "Little Talks".)

Thankfully, Of Monster and Men's cherished fortes are in abundance elsewhere. The beautifully gloomy and meager piano ballad "Waiting for the Snow" is a perfect illustration of their knack for captivating poeticisms and poignant instrumentation. It also demonstrates how wonderfully the voices of Hilmarsdóttir and her vocalist counterpart, Ragnar Þórhallsson, work in tandem. The Þórhallsson-dominated "Stuck in Gravity" is among their most heartbreakingly exquisite compositions ever. While the rocking "Wild Roses" is celebratory but frank, with a robust and danceable backing that's quite infectious. The penultimate "Under a Dome" is largely ambient and ceaselessly heavenly soothing, blanketing you in sublime comfort.

Fever Dream is a very good album, don't get me wrong, with a lot of what has always made Of Monsters and Men stand out. Likewise, the band should be applauded for stretching their boundaries and trying new things, even if the end result somewhat betrays what made longtime fans fall in love with them in the first place. At its weakest spots, however, it replaces their immensely strong and individualized songwriting and arrangements with something far more superficial and run-of-the-mill, which is a shame. Thus, the problem with Fever Dream isn't exactly that it sounds so different from its predecessors. It's that Of Monsters and Men have lost some of their uniqueness and quality in the process.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.