Sometimes, where you’re from isn’t as important as what you’re about. So it is with Of Monsters and Men’s ‘Little Talks’, a song that has been doing the rounds since the end of last year but only got its earlier this year. Probably the most salient feature of the song is the fact that the band behind it – five men whose surnames end with ‘sson’ and a woman whose surname starts and ends with ‘Hilmarsdóttir’ – are from Iceland. As the global fascination with Reykjavik locals Sigur Ros and chameleon singer songwriter Bjork has proved, Iceland is just far away enough to sound enticingly remote but just aligned enough with left-of-field Western cultural tastes that its artists – mainly those aforementioned two, as well as Sigur Ros subset Jonsi and the slightly hyperactive – appeal to that traveller in all of us. Where every tourist wants the authentic, local, not-to-be-repeated travel experience, the notion of having a slice of Iceland in the mix on our iPods imports this desire for esoteric one-offs into the music world.
Interestingly, when it comes to Of Monsters and Men, it’s their Icelandic roots that probably end up defining them the least. The lyrics, as much as they speak to vague notions of loss and love, confrontation and escapism, voice their themes in English. Moreover, there is nothing in the structure or musicality of the track that would seem to suggest that it came from a glacier-pocked country in which just over three people have to share every square kilometer of land. If anything, ‘Little Talks’ is a song which strikes me as a manifestation of globalisation as neither Nanna Hilmarsdóttir’s accent, nor the Mighty Mighty Bosstones-esque trumpet line nor the Edward-Sharpe-And-The-Magnetic-Zeroes-style folk-inspired cries of ‘Hey!’, nor the excellent male-female vocal tension (reminiscent of The Stars, Arcade Fire et al) give a listener any indication of where this track, such a melange of intensely listenable, often easily attributable parts, started out life.
But while the song might be readily reducible to its derivative parts, and picking out particular elements (most notably a distinctly Edward Sharpian vibe) is fairly easy to do, that doesn’t necessarily diminish the quality of ‘Little Talks’. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the band that won a national battle of the bands competition in 2010 only to put out their debut ‘My Head Is An Animal’ in 2011 which peaked at #6 in the US charts, have patently got a lot of love for the neo-folk movement and those artists, Iron & Wine, Mumford & Sons that they now hope to line up alongside (might need to introduce an ampersand; Of Monsters & Men). The way ‘Little Talks’ uses that trumpet riff to full effect, breaks it down at 2’50″ to plumb the depths of the song’s sentiment only to explode back with added vigour and all the while doesn’t overwhelm you with the weight of its influences means that it thrives even where their presence is so obvious. This track is superbly complex, ceaselessly busy and utterly un-Icelandish. But that geographical obscurity, for once, doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks