Stateside Presents

OF MONSTERS AND MEN

OF MONSTERS AND MEN

YELLOW OSTRICH

Thu, May 31, 2012

6:00 pm

Rialto Theatre

Tucson, Arizona

$22-$29

This event is all ages

OF MONSTERS AND MEN
OF MONSTERS AND MEN
Of Monsters and Men is an amiable group of day dreamers who craft folkie pop songs. But last year, the normally mild-mannered six pack -- who's releasing their EP, "Into the Woods," on December 20, 2011 -- transformed into total rock stars after stomping out their competition during Musiktilraunir, a yearly battle of the bands in their native Iceland.

"We just kind of... won," recalls co-singer/guitarist Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir. "We weren't expecting it at all. So I said, 'Everybody come to my place!'" Beer-swilling friends spilled out of her flat. "I was like, 'Oh fuck, my neighbors aren't liking me right now.'"

Those neighbors won't be making noise complaints anymore. With the group's bright, trumpeting single "Little Talks" winning over one blog at a time, Nanna and her bandmates (co-singer/guitarist Ragnar "Raggi" Thorhallsson, guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, drummer Arnar Rosenkranz Hilmarsson, piano/accordion player Arni Guthjonsson, and bassist Kristjan Pall Kristjansson) are well on their way to becoming citizens of the world.

Their rapid rise transpired in just one year. Nanna, who began as the acoustic act Songbird, recruited extra hands to bolster her sound for a solo show. She liked how her vocals commingled with Raggi's, so they started writing songs together and in 2010 morphed into Of Monsters and Men. As victors of 2010's Musiktilraunir, the new group earned a slot on the influential Iceland Airwaves festival later that year, followed by Seattle's radio station KEXP posting "Little Talks" from a Living Room Session filmed there, setting the telltale ripple effect in motion.

By the summer of 2011 "Little Talks" hit No. 1 in the band's native country, and "people around the world seemed to be listening to us," marvels Raggi. The band was asked to perform again at Iceland Airwaves 2011, where KEXP then anointed the group as "easily the most buzzed about band."

Though their reach is growing broader, the group's appeal has remained distinct: Their music is as fantastical as it is pretty. For inspiration, they often reference random stories they've read. The chanting, tribal "Six Weeks" was inspired by the true tale of American frontiersman Hugh Glass, seemingly left for dead after 86ing a bear that attacked him. Explains Nanna, giggling: "I was reading a post about the six most badass guys in history." As for the swelling, epic "From Finner"? "It's about a whale that has a house on its back" says Raggi "on which people travel across the ocean, exploring different places and having adventures."

They also dig deeper, past legends of grizzly men and whale riders. "Little Talks," for instance, explores loneliness and insanity, while "Love Love Love" ruefully ruminates on heartbreak. "If you listen to the lyrics, they're not as uplifting," he says. "But our music is meant to be fun to sing along to."

In September, Of Monsters and Men threw another party -- a more thoughtful gathering to celebrate their full-length debut, "My Head Is an Animal." (The album, which was released in Iceland and hit No 1 there soon after, will drop worldwide in early 2012.) For the occasion, they cut out animal masks for the attendees to wear, making them makeshift monster-men/women. "Iceland can be a very isolated country and that translates to the music," Nanna says, adding,"We get stuck in our little world."
YELLOW OSTRICH
YELLOW OSTRICH
Before starting on songwriting for Yellow Ostrich's latest album, singer/guitarist Alex Schaaf moved into the band's Brooklyn practice space and immersed himself in the study of such astronomers as Carl Sagan and Frank Drake. Keeping up his day job of digitizing people's old home films by day, Schaaf devoted the next 9 months to exploring the depths of the galaxy from a tiny windowless room, whose lighting he altered to reflect the arrival and passing of daylight each morning and night. Around the same time, Yellow Ostrich drummer/percussionist Michael Tapper ventured into the infinite in a much more literal sense by departing on a sailing trip from Mexico to Hawaii that left him out at sea for nearly a month. Borrowing its title from Sagan's 1980 PBS series, Cosmos expands Yellow Ostrich's intensely guitar-driven alt-rock with dreamy electronic arrangements to mirror the mood of Schaaf and Tapper's retreats away from the everyday world. While the album embodies a sense of both wonder and isolation, Yellow Ostrich's refined melodies and dense yet delicate sonic textures make Cosmos as powerfully intimate as it is dynamic.
"Something I really like about the Carl Sagan way of thinking is how it's a very unironic and sincere amazement at how the world works," says Schaaf, who began Yellow Ostrich as a solo project at age 21. "One of the main things I was thinking about in writing this album is how to take that viewpoint and bring it into real-world life," he adds. "It's one thing to be reading all these books and watching all these movies in a very small room, or–as Michael did–to go out and live under the stars for a while. But trying to inject that pure amazement into day-to-day living in a big city is something completely different."
The follow-up to Yellow Ostrich's 2012 EP Ghost, Cosmos captures that uneasy tension by merging raw guitar riffs, lush atmospherics, brain-bending electro effects, sweetly ethereal harmonies, and earnest but unsettling lyrics. Engineered by Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie, Superchunk, Sparklehorse) and mixed by Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.), the album saw its inception when Schaaf sketched out skeletal versions of his songs, then brought them to Tapper to begin fleshing out beats and arrangements. Having delved into the work of early-Krautrock and 70's synth bands while on tour the previous year, Schaaf and Tapper set to broadening their sound with locked grooves and textures inspired by artists like Neu!, Kluster, and Kraftwerk. For more help in crafting the sonics of Cosmos, Schaaf and Tapper recruited bassist Zach Rose and keyboardist/guitarist Jared van Fleet (who stepped in soon after the departure of multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez). With Rose and van Fleet further shaping the songs and helping the band to realize their vision, the new lineup of Yellow Ostrich recorded most of Cosmos in the same rehearsal space where Schaaf was living.
Opening Cosmos with the ominous "Terrors" and closing with the hushed, hymnlike "Don't Be Afraid," Yellow Ostrich lace together electronic elements and organic instrumentation to build a mood that's sometimes gloomy, sometimes euphoric, and often an inextricable mix of the two. Throughout the album, Schaaf's fascination with Earth and beyond plays out both literally and as metaphor: there's songs like "In the Dark" (a stark and dreamlike meditation on the journey of NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts), as well as "Shades" (whose urgent guitar lines and frantic piano reflect the anxiety that Schaaf imagines many people felt upon seeing the first published photos of Earth and "realizing how small and insignificant we really are"). Although that fascination bears an undercurrent of lonely melancholy, Cosmos also achieves its own strange brand of bliss on songs like "How Do You Do It" (a joyfully woozy track whose bombastic chorus serves as a diatribe against self-delusion).
One of the album's most exhilarating numbers, "Any Wonder" pairs a swirling soundscape and questioning lyrics that closely encapsulate the thematic heart of Cosmos ("I'm gonna try hard to tear it all apart/I wanna be stunned, don't you?"). In writing "Any Wonder," Schaaf again tapped into Carl Sagan's careful illumination of the romantic side of science. "A lot of people have this idea that when you explain something, you take away the magic and mystery of it," says Schaaf. "But sometimes the actual science of what happens is way more magical than any fiction we could invent on our own."
For the Cosmos cover art, Yellow Ostrich selected a photograph by Bas Jan Ader, a Dutch artist who created a series of videos in which the force of gravity served as his main medium. An inspiration for "Things Are Fallin'" (the album's epic penultimate track, which starts as a tenderly off-kilter ballad before shifting into a sprawling rock song and finally dissolving into eerie noise), Ader's work also helped Yellow Ostrich tease out that elusive connection between the cosmic and the everyday. "We're living in a time when we're all split up into such small subcultures and everyone has their own personalized digital worlds, which can make it easy to lose touch with the basic principles that rule our lives," Schaaf says. "There's so much that connects all of us and makes us all the same. No matter who you are, gravity's always going to bring you down. I think there's something really beautiful in that."
Venue Information:
Rialto Theatre
318 E. Congress St.
Tucson, Arizona, 85701
http://www.rialtotheatre.com/