With electric pop vibes, underlying ambient sounds and dreamy, poetic lyrics, Of Monsters and Men’s latest album, Fever Dream, is both subtly familiar and strange. As the title suggests, the album feels a bit like a fever dream. In the strange dreamscape of the mind, one can encounter the alter-ego of the beloved Icelandic band — classic acoustic sound is traded for more bogged down instrumentation, folk vibes replaced by a modern aesthetic. What remains constant, however, is the unique and imaginative lyrics that made previous hits, like the 2012 track “Little Talks,” so striking.
The 11-track album opens with “Alligator,” an upbeat, powerful song that sets the tone for the album. Previous work from the band has been characterized by softer vocals, gentler sounds and true-to-form folk stylings. Fever Dream, however, marks a shift in the band’s image and form. On one hand, the rousing vigor of the album is a welcome change, especially in the context of the release. Between sunny summer vibes and 2019 marking yet another year of intense social change and protest, somber lamentations and gentle acoustics can step aside until winter comes.
On the other hand, this stylistic transition — a mark of healthy experimentation necessary for any ensemble — is also a gamble. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Of Monsters and Men certainly had a powerful formula, taking part in the advent of Scandinavian folk and pop’s breakthrough into the mainstream. But consistency can also bring a quick and painful downfall — to maintain relevance, change and adaptation is mandatory. Fever Dream, while a bit underwhelming, still holds promise for future releases.
Overall, Fever Dream is more important in the context of the band’s growth than as a standalone album. That aside, the album does have several good tracks. “Waiting for Snow” is somewhat somber in its reflective structure, poignantly asking, “What can you offer me,” and evoking a sense of bitterness and loneliness. The lines “I used to make mountains / But then they grew bigger than me” shoot the core of insecurity and individual purpose. Like a case of growing pains, it’s difficult to keep up with life, when the world endlessly turns on and on.
Many of the songs are structured similarly to the stream of consciousness of the human mind: Rhetorical questions, indecision, painful expressions of self doubt and uncertainty. It is here that the album finds its strength. Songs like “Róróró” hint at a sense of self-destructiveness: “With open arms then I could hold it all / Oh what a shame that I row / To the edges so that I can fall off.” Other tracks, like “Ahay,” question, “You think you know me / Oh, do you really,” as if to assert that no one else really knows who they are. Yet, rather than directing the accusation at a stranger, the lyric reflects the internalized question of how well one knows oneself. More often than not, the worst enemy is the one closest to home: yourself.
Nothing sums this concept up better than the final track, “Soothsayer.” “The mind is a riddle you cannot solve,” and Fever Dream tackles this complexity of the mind. Of Monsters and Men don’t suppose to provide any answers, but the album acts more as an open letter of candor — everybody has their dark days. In moments like this, the buoyancy of the album’s atmosphere makes the most sense, balancing out the heavy lyrical subject matter with subtle rays of hope. Strength can come from facing one’s demons — here, Of Monsters and Men drag a few pesky goblins from the dark depths of the mind to the cleansing light of day.