Of Monsters and Men: ‘Beneath the Skin’ Album Review

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Beneath the Skin perfectly epitomizes what Of Monsters and Men seem to be about: energy and authenticity. Even in the most reflective, relatively quiet songs such as “Hunger” and “Human,” there is a drive threaded the music. It is not only taking you on a journey, there is life in the melody. And the music is a journey, where OMAM remains authentic to who they are and their own sound. While their lyrics typically lead in a direction, there is enough openness in them that you can apply them to your life and experience. OMAM doesn’t seem to be moved by the pull of studios, managers or critics. They remain rooted in their sound and in their tie to landscape, the physical here and now. Their authenticity breaths through their melody, lyrics and vocal approach. This album embodies that direct sound that reaches into your heart and soul and connects.

I’ll simply add how well it brings out the themes of air, land and sea: “skies of powdered gold/caught in clouds of silver ropes/Showered by the empty hopes/As I tumble down, falling fast to the ground … /Making waves in pitch black sand/Feel the salt dance on my hands,” as well as the theme of being centered and at peace with where you are: “But I’m okay in see-through skin/ I forgive what is within/ Because I’m in this house/ I’m in this home/ All my time.” Musically, it’s moving without becoming just another pop, catchy tune. “Black Water” continues to use sea, silence, cold and darkness as metaphors for relationships; in this case, of roiling in with the waves where we see ourselves “through someone else.”

“Human” has this lovely plucked string sound followed by a solid drum beat. It encourages us to remain human even the midst of the most dehumanizing times: “Breathe in, breathe out/ Let the human in/Breathe in, breathe out/And let it in/Once awoke, it will slowly crawl/ Beneath the skin/ So breathe in, breathe out/ Let the human in.” Relentlessly, this world will try to suck your humanity away; don’t let it.

Nanna goes right into our head and hearts when we remember drowning in a relationship that just won’t work, no matter what we bring to it. “You are right, I’ll move on/But my lungs feel so small/I couldn’t breathe if I tried/I lay my head on the floor/My beating heart wanted more/But I’ll keep it in and keep you out/I’m drowning, I’m drowning.” We are there, drowning with her. That old wound is, just for a moment, reopened so that we can remember and learn.

“Wolves without Teeth” sing of a symbiotic relationship where the partners give their all, albeit not always be the healthiest relationship. I love how this is played out with male/female vocals trading off under-layed with a primitive drum beat. It illuminates how primal our need to be with each other is: “I can see through you/We are the same/It’s perfectly strange/You run in my veins/How can I keep you/Inside my lungs/I breathe what is yours/You breathe what is mine/watch it all diffuse/ Like thousand eyes/ I am the storm, I am the storm/ I am the storm, so wait”

While “Empire” speaks of what we build for one another, “Slow Life” reflects an awkward dance of slowly drifting away as we need to be with and away from one another. Once again, we see themes of deep sea, mountains, light and shadow used to express this dance.

“Organs” is a haunting, raw song depicting that sure and certain knowledge that life would be much simpler if we didn’t care, but that’s not how we’re wired. It’s also the only life worth living. Now, we feel the aftermath and its pain: “So I take off my face/ Because it reminds me how it all went wrong/ And I pull out my tongue/ Because it reminds me how it all went wrong/ And I cough up my lungs/ Because they remind me how it all went wrong/ But I leave in my heart/ Because I don’t want to stay in the dark”

“Thousand Eyes” is almost an introduction into “I of the Storm.” We are both the storm and those ravaged by it: “Unto this storm, unto this storm/ Unto this storm and wait/ I can’t control wither in wonders/ Flowers that lose their shape” ”… I lie awake and watch it all diffuse/ Like thousand eyes./ I am the storm, I am the storm/ I am the storm, so wait.”

“We Sink” strikes me as a kind of “We Are Young” for the more thoughtful set. It reflects being fully alive: “We under the sleepers/ We bite our tongue/ We set the fire/And we let it burn/ Through the dreamers/ We hear the hum/ And say ‘Come on, come on, let’s go’/ So come on, come on, let’s go.” It simultaneously recognizes some of what we do “truly living” (or, at least trying to prove that we’re alive) is stupid: “It’s warm, the skin I’m living in/It creates and shapes what is within/So please look away, don’t look at me/As we sink into the open sea.”

The deluxe album contains a couple of new tracks, “Backyard” using color and ice, starlight and dark to present a gripping of our need for help from others where “Winter Sound” uses the themes of winter to highlight the to and fro of relationships. The last two tracks of the deluxe album are remixes of “Back Water” and “I of the Storm,” respectively. Both remixes add to and morph the overall feel of the song.

Overall, this album’s themes, authenticity and, often under-the-surface energy allow us to join in a musical journey that’s a bit more meaningful than many albums produced. It production, sound and placement all enhance the polish of the album. It’s definitely a worthy listen.

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