Monday, February 13, 2012

3-Sentence Reviews: Scandinavian Indie Folk Special Edition

Every once in a while, perhaps as rarely as a few times per indie-music-listening career, you may encounter the chance to like something really big before it was popular, and I believe Of Monsters and Men might be the best chance I've ever gotten at that.  They're the sort of ensemble you couldn't make up if you tried: six Icelandic dudes (actually five dudes, one of whom is actually named Kristj√°n Kristj√°nsson, and a woman) on a stage playing guitars and horns and whatever percussion they can drum up.  Called Iceland's Mumford and Sons and the new Arcade Fire, Of Monsters and Men are probably better than either band, featuring a bright, energetic indie folk and probably the coolest music video I've ever seen; they're so indie that you can't actually buy their full-length My Head is an Animal in the US yet, but expect big things once you can.

I'm a little incredibly late to the party with Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues, but I was entirely apathetic to the isolated monotone of their first album and expected more of the same with their second.  It's a much better--and much more interesting--album, featuring their trademark harmonized "ooh"s over acoustic folk ("Sim Sala Bim"), 60s-style pop ("Bedouin Dress"), and even Appalachian-flavored pentatonics ("The Shrine").  Like on the first album, all these songs are the same in tempo and instrumentation, but unlike on the first, they differentiate themselves into an entire album of things worth listening to.

I first heard of First Aid Kit via Ben Gibbard's Twitter, and if you can't take indie music advice from the guy behind the most successful indie band ever, who can you take it from?  Like so many bands with promise, the (surprisingly country-sounding) Swedish folk-singing sisters aren't as good as their best song ("The Lion's Roar"), offering impressive and impeccable harmonies on all their music but enough hooks to make it compelling on only about half.  Their 2010 debut The Big Black and the Blue is a tiny bit better than its follow-up, 2012's The Lion's Roar, but both contain enough to promise that First Aid Kit can eventually release a truly brilliant album.

On the advice of my girlfriend Stephanie, and on the strength of a standout eventual first single "1957", I went to see Milo Greene in concert last weekend.  It's potentially the indiest show I will ever see: Milo Greene hasn't even released an album yet, and their own website lists only four songs.  Thanks to a fall 2011 tour opening for the Civil Wars, they'll be forever linked with and compared to that band; the Civil Wars' Barton Hollow had flashes of brilliance amidst a field of decent songs that didn't really go anywhere, so hopefully Milo Greene's eventual debut album takes after "20 Years" or the title track instead of the rest of Barton Hollow.

Opening for Milo Greene was the slightly more established band Family of the Year, who apparently already has three EP's and a full-length album in its three-year musical career, with another full-length coming this year.  Like Milo Greene, their sound is vaguely indie-folk with guy singer/girl singer harmonies; FotY is a little less down-to-earth, including more experimentation with 70s post-psychedelic and rock influences, a few passages of borderline spoken-word, and song titles that might be steeped in a little too much irony for their own good ("Putting Money and Stuff", "I Played Drums on This").  Their willingness to draw off so much inspiration might leave the band without a unique sound if they're biting off more than they can chew, but songs like "Summer Girl" prove these guys are still worth watching to see if this family can grow up a little bit.


Currently listening: "Toccata," from Orfeo, Monteverdi

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